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Clean energy coalition won’t make ballot in 2012

The group attempting to advance a citizen initiative that would increase energy efficiency and a requirement that electricity providers derive a certain amount of power from renewable sources announced Monday that it’s waiting until 2013 to bring the issue to voters.

The announcement by Maine Citizens for Clean Energy came several hours after the group canceled a news conference that was supposed to accompany its presentation of signatures to the Secretary of State’s Office to put a citizens initiative on the November ballot.

David Farmer, a spokesman for the group, said the coalition realized over the weekend that its effort to gather 57,277 signatures fell short.

The group began collecting signatures in November. Farmer said that it collected more than 28,000 signatures on Election Day and that polling showed most Mainers supported increasing Maine’s renewable energy economy.

Farmer indicated there was no political calculation in delaying the initiative until 2013. He said the proposal would have fared well in a presidential election year.

The initiative, if approved, would increase the amount of Maine’s electricity coming from renewable energy sources by 20 percent and require utilities to invest in energy efficiency whenever the investment would reduce energy costs for ratepayers. The renewable energy mandate would work inside the state’s Renewable Portfolio Standard.

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.

The citizens initiative is supported by a coalition of environmental and conservation groups. It is opposed by a group critical of the proliferation of grid-scale wind energy development and by Gov. Paul LePage, who has used public appearances to blast the proposal.

Over the weekend, Chris O’Neil, the spokesman for the anti-wind group Save Maine’s Mountains, formed a political action committee opposing the initiative. The PAC is called Stop Taking our Paychecks.

O’Neil, in a written statement, said Monday that it was unclear why the group pulled back from the campaign, but that his would be ready to fight the initiative whether it appeared on the ballot this year or next.

“It could be that they read the writing on the wall and figured out that the mandate was dead on arrival,” O’Neil said. “Or it could be that despite having lots of special interest money, political operatives and paid signature gatherers, the increasingly aware Maine voters just said no when asked to sign.”