Maine Legislature divided on LePage energy proposal

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. 

smistler@sunjournal.com

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 's picture

next Senators from Maine

The four men generally agreed on most of the topics. For example, each said the country needs to boost domestic energy production but not subsidize alternative sources, such as wind and solar, that are not cost-effective on their own.

Hydro Quebec deal is good because instead of thousands of failed GRID scale WIND TURBINES on our ice-age eco system mountain tops we can ship right through our state to the insatiable Bostonians.

King Angus wants to kill our Maine

Sandra Coulombe's picture

No foreign business should

No foreign business should qualify for any form of government subsidy at any level, period. For that matter no company that is not 100% owned AND fully operated in the USA with USA citizens or those holding a valid work visa should qualify for any form of governmental subsidies or governmental contracts. Save the tax breaks for the American companies who keep the jobs in America only!

 's picture

The industrial wind lobby's

The industrial wind lobby's argument that this bill would open the door to possibly purchasing cheaper hydro power from Quebec and hurting our own local power sources is a hypocritical one, given the fact that the biggest wind developer in this country AND in Maine is merging with three Canadian companies to save itself from bankruptcy. We're sending our dollars out of state with any industrial wind company and out of the nation with First Wind (Massachusetts/Canada) and Iberdrola (CMP/Spain). Hydro-Quebec is going to be duking it out with Nalcor as soon as the second dam on the Churchill River at Muskrat Falls is built. This is going to create very competitive energy prices and could substantially lower the rates for Maine businesses and residents ONLY if we classify hydro power as a renewable. Hydro power IS a renewable energy source, much more powerful and much cheaper than industrial wind. We need Governor LePage's bill to be passed. The legislature should be looking out for Maine citizens and business owners, not pandering to lobbying from special interest groups.

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