AUGUSTA, Maine (AP) — Leaders of a coalition that's pushing for a referendum to mandate increased use of renewable energy in Maine said Wednesday their initiative would reduce dependence on foreign oil while lowering residential energy bills.
Maine Citizens for Clean Energy leaders also said they're confident they'll collect more than 57,000 valid signatures needed by the end of January to get their question on next November's referendum ballot.
The coalition, which includes businesses, environmental organizations and individuals, faces opposition from Republican Gov. Paul LePage, who says predictions of lower energy costs are wrong and promises to fight the initiative.
The Maine Citizens' referendum proposal would require that at least 20 percent of Maine's electricity come from renewable energy sources, such as wind, tidal and solar, by 2020, and require utilities to invest in energy efficiency whenever it would reduce energy costs for ratepayers.
An economic analysis of the proposal conducted by the nonprofit research and advocacy group Environment Northeast concludes that ratepayers would pay more at first, but gradually save money if the referendum passes. Under different scenarios analyzed by ENE, residential bills would rise by less than $1 per month within the next couple of years before dropping by at least 34 cents per month, or as much as $8.70 per month, by 2030.
"We are lagging states surrounding us and provinces in Canada on the amount of money that we're investing in energy efficiency," said Environment Northeast's Maine Director, Beth Nagusky, who is also a former state environmental protection commissioner.
"We have tremendous potential to grow the production and use of our own indigenous renewable energy resources as well, and we can do so in a way that makes sense for the ratepayers, for our economy, for public health and that protects clean air and clean water," said Nagusky, who stood in front of four safety-vested construction employees of Reed & Reed, which is actively involved in windmill projects in Maine and other states.
The Woolwich-based company's Abbie Parker said the renewable energy initiative is good for business.
"If Maine wants to see significant improvement on energy costs while keeping jobs and energy dollars local, it's time for the state to diversify the way it creates electricity," said Parker.
The governor vows a vigorous fight against the proposal, saying he opposes government mandates and believes in allowing the free market to determine which generation and energy sources are the most cost competitive. LePage also disagrees with the coalition's contention that consumers would realize savings and says it would result in increased energy costs.