Governor's energy plan needs work

Gov. Paul LePage’s energy initiatives, released earlier this week, have some good points and some bad points.

First, the good:

The governor’s proposed bills include two that profess to increase transparency and oversight. One would require the Maine Public Utilities Commission and the Office of the Public Advocate to show on their websites the cost of electricity fees and charges. The public sites would be required to show the impact on ratepayers of all rates and pricing.

This bill (LD 1875) also would require Efficiency Maine, a trust established in 2002 that is in part funded by electricity rates, to submit a “zero-based” budget to the Legislature each year. Zero-based budgeting means no automatic approval of previous spending levels. All line items must be approved anew. It makes sense to have keen oversight of any program funded wholly or partially by ratepayers.

A related bill, LD 1864, would establish a home-heating rebate program. A homeowner who installs energy-efficient equipment, as defined by the Efficiency Maine Trust, would get a 5 percent rebate (not to exceed $500) for the cost of the equipment. Systems would include oil and gas boilers, electric, biomass, solar and geothermal. Up to $1 million would be reserved for such rebates.

That’s a good incentive for improving energy efficiency in the state.

Another bill introduced by the governor would eliminate a position in the Office of the Public Advocate and reduce assessments on utilities. On the surface, this bill looks like a bad idea. We find it difficult to believe that utilities need a tax break. And we fear that reducing the staff at the Office of the Public Advocate from seven to six would be bad for consumers.

According to its website, the office “often intercede(s) for utility consumers on an informal basis, seeking the reconnection of power or the resolution of a billing dispute with a Maine utility. Public Advocate staff often work closely with citizen groups in bringing to the PUC petitions for improved utility service or for utility system expansions.”

Fewer resources to help people facing loss of power or to help them square off with powerful utilities would not be good policy.

However, the worst part of LePage’s energy plan is a proposal to allow large-scale hydropower plants to qualify as renewable energy — and to count toward the state’s mandate that utilities increase renewable energy sources by 1 percent per year through 2017.

The effect would be twofold: We would use fewer renewable sources such as wind, solar and geothermal energy to meet the standard, and more troubling, our environment would suffer.

LePage has touted hydropower as “probably the greenest, most renewable energy there is.”


According to the Hydropower Reform Coalition, damming rivers for energy is an outdated, 19th-century technology that kills fish and wildlife and interferes with migratory species such as salmon.

The coalition describes hydropower’s impact on the environment:

“Imagine that someone built a power plant that set your heater to 97 degrees year-round, randomly cut off your water for hours or days on end and placed a giant, impassable wall through the center of your home ... “

More hydropower would hinder ongoing efforts to restore salmon, alewives and other species to our rivers, according to the Natural Resources Council of Maine.

We urge legislators to reject this bad idea.

The opinions expressed in this column reflect the views of the ownership and the editorial board.

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 's picture

LePage is close

Reducing the public Advocate staff might work, who knows what their workload is? Why can't the utilities respond to the consumers without an advocate in the first place? The Sun Journal is way wrong to oppose hydro power being considered renewable. It just is. To oppose renewable status is a blatant kiss up to Big Wind. Mainers are onto the windsprawl scheme, finally. The noise and infrasound problems cannot be ignored. The unsightly blinking industrial litter is unwelcome and unneeded in the state known as "Vacationland". See for pics of the damage and night time reflections on remote lakes. The expense is astronomical and can no longer be hidden away. No big hydro dams are planned, but why can't we improve and update what we have with fishways designed by wildlife biologists and not by accountants as some afterthought? Lines of wind turbines and trans. lines across Maine is a bad idea, not to mention the env. damage in China where these turbines begin and coal is burned to create the towers and parts. They are neither clean nor green. Quoting the NRCM gives your position even less creedence as they stopped speaking for the environment when they began to support the wind industry.

Frank Heller's picture

More hydropower would enhance our native fishery

"More hydropower would hinder ongoing efforts to restore salmon, alewives and other species to our rivers, according to the Natural Resources Council of Maine"

But not according to the UK and European Small Hydro association who've created hydro generating plants which enhance the fishery by improving water quality; reducing storm and drought damage; add in spawning beds; and increasing the amount of aquatic habitat by equipping dams with species appropriate, naturalistic fish ways.

Maine's advocates turn their back on the success found in Canada and other states in having both dams and fishways which attract migratory 'river herring'.

Perhaps instead of consulting people whose agenda has blurred their grasp of the facts, you might want to consult environmentally sensitive hydropower experts.

Laurrel Chute's picture

I see a lot of complaints

I see a lot of complaints about a so called bias toward wind power, but I see nothing in this article that in any way promotes wind. I would not say that the emense wind turbines that are currently being promoted by many are good for our environment, but to say that the sun journal is simply promoting that agenda is wrong at least in this case. If you are against the wind agenda because it is destructive to our environment then you should be "against" hydro for the same reasons. If you are against wind because your personal quality of life is disrupted by the noise and "for" hydro because it would be less disruptive to your personal quality of life then that is simply selfish. We should all be getting behind truly "green" energy alternatives. If you want to promote something that will give us not only green energy, but will also greatly help our economy then fight for HEMP.~

Laurrel Chute's picture

It never ceases to amaze me

It never ceases to amaze me just how little polititians understand the true meaning of "clean(waste free), renewable(quickly naturally replenished), sustainable (capacity to endure with little maintenance), safe (free from danger or dangerous side effects in both the short and long term), environmentally responcible (little to no impact on the environment and its' inhabitants) and efficient (most output for the least input) energy". We have a chance to give a major boost to our economy. HEMP would be one great resource for jobs in such categories as energy, textiles, building supplies, construction and so many more. I would like to see the home heating program pay 10-20% (dependant on the amount of energy shared with the grid)of the cost of adding solar panels on homes with loan guarantees to homeowners instead of the mere 5% currently only a rebate that you have to jump through hoops for. Our future depends on a truly "Green" energy plan for an economy that is able to adapt to the changing needs of its' citizens and earth.

 's picture

Is the pot calling the kettle black?

Fair is fair. If industrial wind facilities are being classified as "green renewables" when they are anything but green, then certainly hydro power must also be classified as a green renewable. Both are environmentally destructive, (and are in violation of federal laws, in the case of industrial wind's high impact on raptors, migratory birds and bats) but at least hydro provides real base load power to the grid. Maine doesn't need this power, but southern New England does, and if Hydro Quebec and Nalcor start duking it out to sign up new customers to their south, which is bound to happen with the second dam being constructed on the Churchill River in Labrador, this will only make for a more competitive electron flowing through the grid.

Gary Steinberg's picture

Sun Journal's Undying Wind Scam Support is Breathtaking!

And lets face it , that is what the criticism of LePage's and Flethcer's common sense energy plans are about.

End the Wind Subsidy Scam in Maine!

Wind and solar companies are net tax beneficiaries who wish to defeat Lepage's energy plan.

Taxpayers would save billions of dollars if wind and solar produced no energy at all!

A July 2011 Energy Department study found that oil, natural gas and coal received an average of 64 cents of subsidy per megawatt hour in 2010.

Wind power received nearly 100 times more, or $56.29 per megawatt hour."
The wind industry is comprised of liars and deceivers, and is a useless waste of taxpayer dollars.

I suppose Sun Journal has applied some basic math to Wind costs and published them , have they not?

I suggest reading the EIA data, and then applying some common sense and basic economics to their poorly researched editorials criticizing LePage's Energy plans.

Alan Michka's picture

What about concern for Maine?

I applaud the Sun Journal's show of concern for wildlife. I'm also disappointed that their concern for wildlife potentially impacted by existing Canadian hydropower projects is equalled our surpassed by their lack of concern for Maine people and wildlife from future land-based wind power projects in our own state.

The NRCM's concern, however, is probably much more about the possibility that a better energy choice for Maine might be found and derail their mountaintop wind power development campaign. They've invested so much in wind power promotion that they can't let the quality of life of rural Mainers and Maine wildlife get in their way.

The 100 MW rule, at this point, exists only to protect wind power from competition. So much for the free market and the value of competition for ratepayers.

 's picture

LSJ is way off base

Your bias for wind power is showing once again. What is wrong with you people? The LePage bill to allow 100 MW hydro facilities to be included in the Renewables percentage is only righting a wrong. We never excluded these potential sources until Baldacci wanted it in place to protect his cronies in the wind industry.

Furthermore, making this change has no impact on existing hydro facilities in Maine, none of which, even if retro-fitted, would be 100 MW. There isn't a single potential hydro site in Maine that would have that potential even if it could be developed.

In Quebec and Newfoundland, the Canadians have developed two of the largest hydro sources in the world. They have plenty of predictable, reliable, emissions-free electricity capacity to sell. If they can sell us cost competetive electricity to stabilize or even lower Maine's electricity costs, then I am all for it.

Wind power doesn't work. The first full quarter of operations (Oct-Dec 2011)of the Rollins Project in Lincoln comes in at less than 20% capacity factor. Yet the blasting, leveling, and clearcutting involved in the 7 miles of ridgelines is environmentally devastating. We are wasting huge amounts of taxpayer money, driving our electricity costs up, and ruining our state by embracing industrial wind. The heinous renewables mandate should be repealed completely, but in lieu of repeal, allowing all sources of emissions-free power to be considered in meeting the mandate makes sense rather than protecting the wind industry.

Thank you to Gov. LePage for following through on his pledge to find ways to lower electricity costs for Maine residents and commerce.

 's picture

placed a giant, impassable wall through the center of your home

“Imagine that someone built a power plant that set your heater to 97 degrees year-round, randomly cut off your water for hours or days on end and placed a giant, impassable wall through the center of your home ... “

imagine if someone blasted the fresh water pool on your ice age eco-system, draining the water for ever? Then dug a road cut that is impassible as a trail now. Then clearcut and herbicided my food. Then erected this huge air sucking machine that my feathered friends cannot fly by.

Over and over again, thousands of these , as far as the eye can see.

Or tap into Hydro?

GARY SAVARD's picture

Maybe 19th century dams were

Maybe 19th century dams were built with outdated technology, but new hydro projects certainly come with better environmental safeguards than, say, the old Edwards Dam in Augusta had. Hydo power is renewable energy that is reliable 24/7, as compared to wind power that has low to mid 20% range efficiency, a relatively short economic life span, and which comes with it's own environmental baggage, such as blasting scenic and wildlife habitat ares for towers, access roads, and transmission lines. An additional problem with wind projects appears to be factors related to noise. Hydro is as green as wind, so it should be included in the green calculations, in my opinion. NRCM and HRC are not actually "unbiased" sources of data. That's kind of like saying "according to Fox News, or according to MSNBC" depends on which slant you want to promote, but that's about all those sources are worth. If I didn't know better, I would get the idea from this editorial that the SJ might be attempting to gloss over all the negative wind power issues in order to pave the way for their coming endorsement of Angus King, Mr. Independent/Democrat, and a captain of the wind industry here in Maine, for the U. S. Senate.


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