Taking aim at green power initiatives that raise energy costs, Gov. Paul LePage said in his weekly radio address Wednesday that Maine consumers deserve a break.
“Decades of corruption, poor decision-making and wealthy special interests controlling Augusta” have left the state shouldering higher-than-necessary costs for energy, the governor said, a legacy he claims crimps business growth.
LePage seeks to end initiatives aimed at bolstering wind and solar use that call for above-market-rate payments that proponents say are needed to get the renewable sectors off the ground. He prefers to move toward more use of natural gas and imported hydropower.
As he put it last year, “Instead of looking exclusively at wind and solar power, elected officials must look at the bottom line. That’s where the jobs are.”
Though Maine has the lowest retail electric costs in New England, it remains one of the most expensive states for energy overall. As of June, Mainers paid 18 percent more for electricity than the national average.
LePage has often said that utility costs make it difficult for many companies that might otherwise find the state attractive.
Maine uses a higher percentage of renewable sources than any other state east of the Mississippi River.
Two-thirds of Maine’s electricity generation in 2015 came from renewable energy resources, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration. The state gets 30 percent of its electricity from hydropower, 26 percent from biomass and 10 percent from wind. It is pushing to increase wind-generated power.
Legislators have endorsed programs to subsidize a move toward renewable energy sources even though they have been costlier than traditional electrical generation. They maintain that it’s important to help new producers during a period of innovation.
“Liberals look to Boston, Hartford and Montpelier for magical energy schemes that add an electric fee to your bill, and then hand the money to wealthy energy companies,” LePage said in his address. “The average electric bill is now $120 in New England – in Maine, it is slightly less.”
The governor said the push for costly renewables is the wrong approach. He said it is “time to completely reject above-market contracts” that make power more expensive than it needs to be.
Instead of promoting solar and wind, he said, his administration has “offered rebates for heat pumps, wood pellet boilers, insulation and other modern heating systems to reduce heating costs. This has lowered our heating-oil consumption, reduced pollution and cut heating bills.”
He added, “The bottom line is we should seek low-cost energy that does not harm the environment. All forms of clean energy sources should be treated equally – and not at the expense of Maine consumers.”
LePage signed a measure last spring, though, that pumped $13.5 million into the struggling biomass industry. It aimed to keep four biomass power plants operating in the face of market pressures that made them unprofitable.
LePage has said he doesn’t mind if state producers want to generate electricity from wind or solar sources, as long as they’re selling the resulting higher-cost power to other states, not to Maine companies and consumers.
He has often said he would prefer to cut a deal for cheap power from Hydro Quebec, which generates a significant amount of renewable hydropower from rivers flowing into the Hudson Bay. It exports electricity to many of its neighbors but is capable of selling more.
“Electric fees are like regressive taxes,” LePage said. “Our low-income households and our elderly struggle every month to keep the lights on. Increasing rates, add-ons and fees on our most vulnerable should be an outrage to all of us, but liberals constantly support rich energy lobbyists over low-income and elderly Mainers.”
The governor said that “liberals forget that Maine’s economy is different from the rest of New England. We have leading manufacturers that use a tremendous amount of energy to create world-class products.”
“In fact, Maine is the only New England state in which industry is the largest consumer of energy. Sappi, Texas Instruments and Bath Iron Works, for a few examples, don’t compete with Vermont, Connecticut, Massachusetts or Rhode Island. They compete globally,” LePage said.
“Liberals ignore competitive pressures involved in producing a roll of coated paper, a semiconductor or a Navy destroyer,” he said. “Every penny we add to their bills puts them at a competitive disadvantage.”