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Anti-wind group backs LePage in fight against renewable energy initiative

Friends of Maine’s Mountains, a group that opposes the proliferation of grid-scale wind power, announced Thursday that it’s supporting Gov. Paul LePage’s push against a citizen initiative that would expand the state’s renewable energy portfolio.

Maine currently mandates that utility companies derive a certain percentage of electricity from renewable sources. However, a coalition called Maine Citizens for Clean Energy has launched a citizen referendum to increase the requirements in the state’s so-called Renewable Portable Standard.

The initiative runs sharply against the governor’s energy policy. Last year, LePage tried to freeze the current RPS mandate but met stiff opposition from the state’s wind-power lobby and environmental groups.

On Wednesday, the governor told the Capitol News Service that the citizen effort to expand the Renewable Portfolio Standard was “nothing more than a scam to make a few people wealthy.”

On Thursday, the Friends of Maine’s Mountains group backed the governor.

“This would be an environmental and economic disaster for Maine,” said Chris O’Neil in a prepared statement, adding that passage of the citizen initiative was a “de facto mandate for an unsustainable buildup of wind turbines and costly transmission systems on Maine’s mountains.”

He added, “Markets would not support any wind power at all if not for a complicated brew of incentives, grants, mandates, tax breaks, surcharges and other government-created gimmicks.”

Maine’s RPS is set to reach 40 percent by 2017. The referendum would increase that mandate to 50 percent by 2020, while also requiring providers to invest in energy efficiency. Maine’s current RPS is 34 percent.

Proponents of the RPS say it encourages the development of renewable resources, which in turn, leads to job creation. Opponents say the mandate is costly, drives up rates and favors the development of wind power while excluding Canadian hydropower from counting toward the RPS total.

States including Vermont have changed their RPS mandate to allow Canadian hydropower to count toward RPS.

LePage has been pursuing a new energy policy that might include importing Canadian hydropower. Ken Fletcher, the governor’s energy czar, told the Sun Journal last month that Hydro-Quebec had also inquired about being allowed to count toward RPS.

Maine Citizens for Clean Energy held a news conference in Augusta this week to support the referendum. The group said it’s confident it will collect more than 57,000 valid signatures needed by the end of January to get the question on the ballot later this year.

Environment Northeast’s Maine director, Beth Nagusky, acknowledged that residential electric bills would rise initially, but then decrease if the measure passes.

The governor has cited an analysis by the Maine Public Utilities Commission that estimated the citizen initiative would cost between $40 million and $80 million a year.