2015-06-03 / Commentary

Keep Politics Away from Efficiency Maine

GUEST OPINION
BY WILL NEILSON

The two LePage appointees to the three-member PUC have just voted to reaffirm a legalistic misconstruction of the statute governing funding for the Efficiency Maine Trust that cuts the Trust’s maximum funding from approximately $60 million to up to $27 million per year. The purpose of this maneuver is to allow the Governor to extend his presently limited power over the Trust by appropriating its money to fund a new state energy bureaucracy, and by making the Trust’s director a political appointee.

On one level this is just politics as usual, taking advantage of legal complexity to gain political advantage. What makes this far more appalling than your garden-variety political pettifoggery is that this maneuver threatens the livelihood and investments of hundreds of small businesses and trades people who have geared up to meet demand that was based on the clear intent of the law to greatly increase the funding for energy efficiency investments.

It is important to realize that we are not talking about tax dollars here. These are funds assessed from utility ratepayers for energy efficiency purposes, not for funding increased government bureaucracy. It is also important to realize that the subsidies for energy efficiency the Trust offers are good public policy:

. Efficiency investments are far, far less expensive than building new generating and transmission capacity — it lowers costs in the medium and long term;

. By leveraging private investment, efficiency investments by the Trust stimulate economic growth; and

. They reduce greenhouse gas emissions and other pollution associated with generating energy.

According to testimony by contractors at the public hearings on LD 1215 — the so called “clean” fix which inserted the errant “and” without including any of the Governor’s power-and-money-grab language as did Rep Ken Fredette’s competing LD 1221 — energy efficiency investments that were being considered are already being tabled. This political gambit raise costs and lowers Mainers incomes — a true lose-lose proposition!

Perhaps worst of all though, at least from this writer’s perspective as a business person and investor in Maine, is what this wrangling says about the real business climate of the state. Notwithstanding slogans about being “open for business” and “business friendly,” a state which reneges on its commitments and continually tries re-trade deals that have been agreed risks real harm to its reputation as a place to invest and long-term damage to its economy. Just ask Statoil!

The Democratic leadership in the House brought LD 1215, up for a vote as soon as the Energy, Utilities and Technology Committee reported it out, and it passed overwhelmingly 138 to 1. The Republican leadership in the Senate has sidelined LD 1215 while it works on a separate bill to accomplish the Governor’s goals without forcing Republican Senators to vote publicly against the “clean” fix. They couch the Governor’s goals in worthy-sounding terms like “accountability” and “transparency,” but unfortunately the Governor’s appointees on the PUC have just offered crystal clear example of what “accountability” means in politics.

I urge readers of all political persuasions in Sagadahoc County/Senate District 23 to call Senator Linda Baker and tell her to vote for LD 1215 without further delay and without subordinating the Efficiency Maine Trust to political control — a “dirty” fix indeed, that serves the interest of one person in the state of Maine, while damaging the interests of everyone else.

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Will Neilson is co-owner of Solo Bistro. He lives in Bath.

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