Library filed under Energy Policy from Maine
Gov. Paul LePage is withholding support for a compromise bill being worked out by the Legislature's Energy Committee that's aimed at expanding Maine's natural gas infrastructure, boosting funding for energy efficiency, directly lowering businesses' electricity costs and making it more affordable for residents to abandon oil heat.
Armed with the signatures of the majority of residents in their townships and plantations, they went to ask lawmakers to pass a bill to give them back the right to influence how the land in their communities was used. That right, they said, had been taken away.
LePage also is displeased that the bill ignores a study by Woodcock's office meant to reconsider the state's ambitious wind energy goals and shift the priority to lowering electricity rates. Wind power policy is too big an issue to tackle in the bill, said John Cleveland, D-Auburn, Senate chair of the committee.
Eliminating unrealistic statewide wind energy capacity goals, as Woodcock suggests, would be a start toward revamping Maine's wind energy policy to reflect the progress that's been made and the best route to capitalize on it in the future.
The [Maine] RPS law limits the amount of energy we can use from renewable sources, such as hydropower, solar, tidal, biomass and geothermal. But in 2009 legislators lifted the cap for wind power, which is expensive to build and produces a minimal amount of our electricity. In 2011, we got only 4.5 percent of our electricity from wind. While it produces only a fraction of energy, it is some of the most expensive electricity we buy.
The underlying issue in New England is that gas pipeline capacity is inadequate to keep prices steady in times of high home heating demand, said Vamsi Chadalavada, executive vice president and chief operating officer of ISO New England. ISO is leading a study focused mainly on reliability, but reliability is intertwined with price, he said.
The nonprofit that runs the New England power grid is exploring incentives to encourage gas-fired power plants to commit to long-term contracts, which could in turn finance more pipelines. The Governor's Energy Office is looking at ways to facilitate capital investment. The Maine House minority leader has a "bold proposal" - but he's not sharing it just yet.
The LePage administration wants Hydro-Quebec to sell power here, possibly at the expense of wind and biomass generators. More than 30 years ago, Gordon Weil and then-Gov. Joseph Brennan traveled to Montreal to meet with Quebec Premier Rene Levesque. They met at the headquarters of the provincial power company, Hydro-Quebec.
Maine has a chance to trim $170 million a year from electricity bills, cut its reliance on oil and take advantage of historically low power costs, but lawmakers first must authorize state government to help bring natural gas here from new gas fields in the Northeast.
"Homeowners will pay $85 more per year on their electricity bill and business will pay more than $600 annually," says LePage - citing a study by the Maine Heritage Policy Center and Beacon Hill Institute. "Industrial users will suffer the most taking on more than $14,000 per year because of the mandate."
The Maine Energy Office announced Friday that electricity rates in Maine as compared to the national average are much higher than other states. The data, provided by the U.S. Energy Information Administration, indicates that Maine rates are improving. However, Maine is still 24 percent above the US average.
They may be called "smart meters," but the multiple controversies that accompanied their implementation in Maine and other places have not left the impression that all their implications were fully thought out.
The Public Advocate and other appellants argued that the proposal would violate the state's landmark electricity restructuring act, which barred transmission companies like Bangor Hydro from owning electricity generation. That law prohibits utilities from owning both transmission and generation because it was believed to be anti-competitive and to contribute to high electricity prices.
"Mainers are paying $326 million per year above the average American for our energy," said LePage. He targeted wind power as a major contributor for that high number. "It's a big number. Why? Because we have some groups in Maine that are greedy. ..."Wind is costing us dearly. It's costing us jobs, it's costing us investment and it's costing us big."
After LePage returned from a vacation, he blasted lawmakers for rewriting his bill and blamed special interest groups for the changes."I do not support Augusta being in the business of increasing costs on Maine ratepayers to pad the pockets of special interest groups," he said in a statement last Friday. "I believe it is morally and ethically wrong to take more money from those who can least afford it to line the pockets of those that are politically connected here in Augusta."
The Governor wants to change a twelve-year old law that regulates the purchase of renewable electricity in Maine. That law says that to qualify under Maine's Renewable Energy Portfolio standards, the power must come from sources smaller than 100 megawatts. The Governor wants to lift that hundred megawatt cap.
Spanish consumers were allowed to run up that debt because previous administrations agreed that utilities should book more revenue than they were permitted to collect. The gap accelerated during the last five years, swollen by subsidies added to power bills to support renewable power plants, energy efficiency projects and domestic coal mines.
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 PUC staff recommendation announced Friday opposes the joint venture because of fears that it would lead to higher electricity rates for ratepayers and give a utility control over a power generator, which the state's Electric Restructuring Act expressly prohibits.
A federal order issued last fall is intended to make it easier to construct transmission lines, costly and controversial projects that are notoriously tough to build.