AUGUSTA — The centerpiece of Gov. Paul LePage's energy initiative remained in limbo Friday as lawmakers were set to complete work for the session.
The bill, LD 1863, removes the 100-megawatt cap from power generators — hydropower generators in particular — to count toward the state's renewable energy portfolio standard.
The Senate on Thursday approved the measure on a party-line vote. However, on Friday, the House of Representatives went in another direction, setting up two more key votes as debate continued late Friday evening.
Maine, like other states, has adopted RPS rules to promote the development of renewable energy.
States like Vermont have crafted rules that allow hydropower to count toward qualifying for RPS. LePage's proposal would have done the same. The LePage administration has argued that the proposal would reduce energy costs for businesses and residents.
Critics of the plan say it's a "sweetheart deal" for Hydro-Quebec. Maine currently doesn't have any large-scale hydropower producers generating more than 100 megawatts. The governor has been in discussions with Hydro-Quebec since last year, leading some to speculate that the bill was designed to facilitate a deal with the company.
Opponents said the bill contained no provision ensuring reduced energy costs. In addition, critics argued, allowing a foreign hydropower company to count toward Maine's RPS would undercut in-state wind-power companies.
Energy providers qualifying for RPS receive credits paid for by ratepayers; critics of the governor's proposal worried that if a major provider received the bulk of the credits, other renewable power producers would suffer.
The bill was opposed by the state's wind lobby and other renewable industries.
An alternative measure was supported by the Legislature's Energy Committee. The plan, which received an 8-5 endorsement, would have created a competitive bidding process to get all energy providers to present the best deal.
The committee vote riled LePage, who last week issued a statement urging residents to contact lawmakers on the panel, including two Republicans, to express their displeasure.
The governor accused opposing legislators of caving to special interests, the wind lobby in particular.
“I do not support Augusta being in the business of increasing costs on Maine ratepayers to pad the pockets of special-interest groups,” LePage said in a statement. “I believe it is morally and ethically wrong to take more money from those who can least afford it to line the pockets of those that are politically connected here in Augusta.”
Democrats, however, said it was Hydro-Quebec's connection to the governor's office that was advancing LD 1863.
"(This bill) says, 'Let’s enter into a long-term contract with one provider, and that’s Hydro-Quebec,'" Sen. Phil Bartlett, D-Gorham, said. "This is about striking a deal with Hydro-Quebec."
Nonetheless, the administration's lobbying efforts seemed to have an effect in the Senate. In a party-line vote, Republicans on Thursday approved the governor's plan, 19-16.
The govenor's victory was short-lived. On Friday, the House voted 75-66 to approve the committee majority report setting up the bidding process.
The administration has argued that the governor's bill would create an exhaustive vetting process.