Maine House approves initial fix to energy efficiency program
- Lawmakers in the Maine House of Representatives have voted 138-1 to give preliminary approval to a bill designed to fix a clerical error that cut $38 million from a state energy efficiency program, the Portland Press Herald reports.
- The missing word "and" in a 2013 omnibus energy bill led utility regulators to cap efficiency spending at $22 million, instead of the $60 million lawmakers say they intended. This new bill, LD 1215, would simply add the word "and" back into the legislation, in what House Democrats are calling a "clean fix."
- Governor Paul LePage (R) has threatened to veto the bill, however, unless amendments are included to elevate his energy office to a cabinet-level position and give the governor more authority over the Efficiency Maine Trust, the energy saving program in question.
Critics say the Maine efficiency funding debacle never had to happen.
The Maine Public Utilities Commission, which oversees the efficiency program, had the chance to correct the problem without additional legislation. In March, it was faced with a vote on whether it would regard the legislative intent of the 2013 omnibus law, which legislators said was not to cut $38 million from the efficiency program.
The PUC voted 2-1 to not consider the legislative intent, taking the wording of the law literally, and requiring the cut in the efficiency program.
Members of both parties in the Maine House of Representatives lamented that the clerical error in the 11,633 word bill has become a political bargaining chip.
Republicans criticized clean energy groups for using the funding debacle to "fundraise and recruit." According to the Press Herald, efficiency supporters were outraged with the PUC's literal interpretation of the law and rushed to lobby for a correction.
Democrats, on the other hand, criticized Gov. Paul LePage for what they say is an attempt to expand his own power and extract concessions from a deal negotiated nearly two years ago. LePage wants to expand his cabinet to include an energy office and gain the power to appoint the executive director of the Efficiency Maine Trust, who is currently selected by the organization's board.
Efficiency Maine subsidized 2.5 million efficient light bulbs and helped 3,000 businesses in Maine convert to more efficient equipment, the Press Herald reports.
Amendments on the bill are anticipated before the end of the week, with GOP representatives expected to propose changes that align with LePage's requests. The bill has not yet been introduced in the Maine Senate.
- Portland Press Herald Maine House gives initial approval to restore funds for energy efficiency program
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