November 26, 2012

LePage continues to blame law for state’s high energy prices

BDN staff and wire reports | Bangor Daily News | Nov. 26, 2012 |

Conservative groups, funded in part by oil and gas interests, are stepping up efforts to reverse state renewable energy requirements. In his weekly radio address, Gov. Paul LePage blamed the law for Maine’s high energy prices – for the second time in as many months.

“Regulations now block our ability to take advantage of the abundance of resources out there,” the governor said in the address aired Saturday. “Studies indicate that Maine’s current Renewable Portfolio Standards Law, which mandates the minimum amount of energy consumers must purchase from various sources, will raise the cost of electricity in Maine by 8 percent in the next five years.”

LePage did not cite a specific study in his radio address.

The governor, a Republican, also criticized the renewable requirement in an October radio address. In this speech he referenced a study by the Beacon Hill Institute.

The legislative council, or ALEC, is a conservative-leaning group of state legislators from all 50 states that has sought to roll back climate regulation in the past.

As part of its effort to roll back renewable standards, ALEC is citing economic analyses of state policies co-published by Suffolk University’s Beacon Hill Institute and the State Policy Network. Both groups have received donations from foundations funded by the Koch brothers.

The analyses – which examine current or proposed standards in states as Maine, Kansas, Michigan, Missouri, North Carolina and Oregon – assume the Energy Information Administration’s projected renewable energy price estimates are too low, and that cost-containment measures embedded in state policies will fail. As a result, the reports conclude Kansas’ requirement to obtain 20 percent of its electricity will cost consumers $644 million over the next eight years, while Oregon’s goal of 25 percent renewable electricity by 2025 will cost consumers $992 million by 2025.

Beacon Hill Institute research economist Michael Head said he and his two co-authors were skeptical the cost caps outlined in legislation would kick in.

“We just left it out so we could provide the actual analysis of the policy itself,” Head said, adding that the central question is not whether renewable energy costs more but “the matter of degree. You’re certainly going to have these higher electricity prices. They will have profound negative consequences for the states’ economies.”

But Gabe Elsner, co-director of the public watchdog group Checks and Balances Project, said the legislation and economic reports amount to “a one-two punch against clean energy laws across the country” by fossil-fuel interests.

“You push the legislation to state legislators and then you fund reports to support the argument and convince state lawmakers,” Elsner said, “and all without any transparency or disclosure about the sources of this funding.”

“Maine needs a truly free energy market,” LePage said in the address aired Saturday. “Recent events and reports show how Maine could better compete in the global economy if we had a competitive energy market that allows consumers their choice of resources.

The Washington Post contributed to this report.

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