An effort by Gov. Paul LePage to save Maine’s electricity ratepayers less than $5 a year is penny wise and pound foolish. It could cost Maine billions of dollars of private investment and, quite literally, thousands of jobs.
A LePage-sponsored bill, LD 1570, now before the Legislature’s Energy, Utilities and Technology Committee, rolls back regulations that currently push electric companies to gradually increase the amount of their juice coming from renewable sources.
That mandate is aimed at gradually ratcheting up the state’s renewable generating capacity while diversifying in-state generation sources.
It’s a complex regulation that is easily described by opponents as a government subsidy, or handout.
In fact it’s more of an insurance policy for Mainers against increasingly unstable and unpredictable global natural gas and oil prices. It’s an energy policy that favors Maine-made power over sources of fuel we must import from other states and other countries.
We agree with LePage’s ultimate goal of reducing the cost of electricity to the end user, be it a business or a homeowner. And the governor is right: Mainers pay too much for electricity. But we don’t agree the higher cost is due only to efforts at increasing the amount of renewable power we produce and consume.
In his analysis, the governor fails to note Maine’s industries and homeowners enjoy some of the lowest electric rates in all of New England. According to the federal Energy Information Administration, Maine industries and businesses pay less per kilowatt-hour than their counterparts in any other New England state.
LePage also fails to recognize the state’s unique geographical challenges and our distance from cheap sources of electricity; in other words, our distance from the coal-fired power plants — which are also government subsidized — of the Midwest.
In his radio address Saturday, LePage characterized the state’s electric rates as “skyrocketing” over the past decade, but Public Utility Commission charts show that rates have increased only incrementally over the decade and are largely in line with other inflationary increases.
But over the past few years, Maine’s electric rates actually have been on a gradual downward trend, proof that Maine’s existing policy on renewables is actually doing what the governor is hoping for — lowering rates.
LePage’s case is based largely on the idea that a free market will sort itself out, and if Maine has high electric costs, it’s due solely to efforts to create a diversified energy portfolio. If green energy is good energy, then let it compete with fossil fuels — an industry that is also highly subsidized.
However, in her testimony on LD 1570, Maine PUC attorney and legislative liaison Paulina McCarter Collins noted the LePage legislation is, in effect, changing the rules after the game has already started.
By changing the rules for power project developments in Maine mid-game, LePage is gambling with billions of dollars of private investment and thousands of new jobs for Maine’s people.
Part of the support for his plan comes from those who oppose land-based wind energy projects, but LD 1570 would roll back all of the incentives and limit the ability of companies onshore or off to secure the long-term energy contracts they need to fund projects that will free Maine and Maine ratepayers from other types of energy costs that are beyond our control.
LD 1570 is sending mixed signals to would-be investors in Maine-based energy companies. This sudden tilting of the green-energy development playing field in Maine is inconsistent with LePage’s otherwise positive pro-business and pro-jobs message.
The opinions expressed in this column reflect the views of the ownership and editorial board.