Energy bill awaits funding

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AUGUSTA (AP) – With gasoline prices hovering near $3 per gallon and energy a front-burner issue in Washington, a bill that encourages conservation and renewable energy is awaiting funding in the Maine Legislature.

Gov. John Baldacci’s energy policy bill has won final House and Senate approval and awaited a decision by the Appropriations Committee on whether to provide $20,000 in funding.

“My fingers are crossed,” Beth Nagusky, Baldacci’s director of energy independence and security, said Friday as the bill calling for biofuel tax cuts and more emphasis on conservation awaited funding.

“I hope that given the high gas prices and bipartisan support in Maine and nationally to transform to alternative fuels, this will be seen as a high priority,” Nagusky said.

Overshadowed in recent weeks by other high-profile issues in the State House, the bill takes on new significance as Maine motorists see gasoline prices climbing into the $3 per gallon range.

In Washington, Congress is working on legislation to roll back billions of dollars in tax breaks for major oil companies and rebates in fuel costs for taxpayers.

Baldacci’s bill takes a different tact. It seeks a one-year reduction in Maine’s sales and use tax on biofuels such as ethanol and other fuels derived from living and renewable sources.

The governor’s bill gives a higher priority to conservation and energy efficiency when the Public Utilities Commission requests bids from companies to supply power for the standard offer for electric consumers.

When the PUC goes out to bid, Nagusky explained, it could consider not only megawatts, but also “negawatts,” or capacity that is made available through conservation and improved efficiency.

“It will help bring the price of the standard offer down by incorporating lower-cost conservation and efficiency into the portfolio of energy supply,” Nagusky said.

The legislation also sets a goal of increasing by 10 percent the state’s renewable power generation by 2017.

The bill would create a Maine Energy Council, which would study whether electric industry restructuring is working.

Nagusky described Maine as a national leader in developing renewable energy resources, adding, “We have a great opportunity … that cannot be underestimated to be growing our fuels.”

AP-ES-04-28-06 1438EDT

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