A Maine organization that advocates for the environment and the economy is praising Governor Paul LePage’s new slate of energy legislation. Yesterday the Governor’s office released details about four initiatives that will be considered by the Legislature this spring. Friends of Maine’s Mountains (FMM), a statewide non-profit that educates the public about the high impacts and low benefits of mountaintop wind power, is still analyzing the legislation but FMM President Chris O’Neil said the group is generally supportive.
“Very powerful lobbying forces have left us unsuccessful in our previous attempts to enact some of these same measures,” O’Neil said. “But now having the Governor’s office as the lead, it shows that people in Maine are catching on to the truth and discarding the hype. This governor has consistently made energy and electricity costs his priorities. His new legislation is solid policy to help realize those priorities.”
O’Neil noted that Maine created the barrier for large hydro generators to facilitate utility restructuring, when the buyers and sellers of generation assets needed assurance that those assets would remain viable. “Because these investments have matured and much of their debt has been retired, they no longer need a protectionist law that is a de facto tariff on Canadian electricity.”
O’Neil said that Maine has no true demand for massive new amounts of electricity, “but if in a decade or so New England decommissions a few older, dirtier power plants, Canadian hydro could help fill the void. We know that base load generators cannot be replaced by wind mills, so it is smart to open this door to our neighbors before we destroy Maine’s Mountains in a futile attempt to get Ohio off coal.”
O’Neil further noted that the old fears of Hydro Quebec controlling the Maine electricity market are no longer valid. “In the old days people thought HQ would put all our generators out of business, and then jack up rates. Now we have Nalcor poised to compete with HQ for our business, and the Governor is smart to avail Maine of that competition’s potential benefits.” O’Neil referred to a November, 2010 power purchasing deal signed between Nalcor and utilities in the Maritime Provinces, a deal that makes more realistic Maine’s connection to vast electricity resources in Newfoundland/Labrador. Read a 2010 news story about the Nalcor deal here.
FMM applauds the measure that would add transparency to the many cost components for delivered electricity. O’Neil asserted that “conservation and efficiency on the demand side show great promise for reducing energy and electricity burdens, and we are excited about the new focus here” but FMM has been a vocal critic of how government mandates and programs have funded conservation and efficiency programs; the system benefit charge to name just one.
“It’s a good thing if my neighbor saves oil by adding some insulation and installing a new furnace. But when he gets the money to pay for it from a tax on my electric bill – and an invisible tax at that – we say the worthy ends do not justify the dubious means,” O’Neil said. This legislation will make consumers more aware of some well-intended yet inappropriate costs that we now pay, and that we could be asked to pay in the future.”
FMM does not see the Governor’s legislation as an attack on the Efficiency Maine Trust. “Some of what Efficiency Maine does is immensely worthwhile,” O’Neil said. “This legislation helps ensure that we get the best bang for the Efficiency Maine buck so that energy and electricity bills will not continue to hobble Maine’s economy.”
The bill changing the name of the Energy Office might seem frivolous, but O’Neil thinks it is important. “The reason we have pushed for the name change is because the terms ‘independence and security’ are hollow and misguided. Maine cannot – and should not – be energy independent when we are part of the New England grid and players in a global economy. However innocuous, silly notions like that have led us to silly policies.”
In supporting the legislative package, FMM says it is appropriate for Maine to be pragmatic about energy and electricity at a time when paying for them is so burdensome. “Maine has done its part in being green,” O’Neil said. “Only four states have a higher percentage of their electricity generation coming from renewables. No state mandates a higher percentage of renewables. We don’t really burn oil or coal. With well over 90% of our generation coming from renewables and natural gas, and 90% of our land covered with carbon-eating forest, Maine is about as clean as we can be. That’s all good, but now is the time to take a breather, to protect both our environment and our economy.”
For important information about Maine’s energy situation, see: 20 Facts
Friends of Maine’s Mountains, P.O. Box 60, Weld, Maine 04285 (207)585-2005
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