State Rep. Mark Dion of Portland has always seemed to be a bright and sensible guy. This week he gave a radio speech on heating Maine homes and businesses. As so often happens, he committed many sins of omission and/or commission, thereby misleading Maine people. Below is the text of his speech in quotations, with our comments embedded:
Good morning, I’m Democratic State Representative Mark Dion from Portland.
"This morning I wanted to talk about something we can all relate to – the cost of heating our homes and businesses."
- A good topic for Mainers. Particulary because Maine uses currently expensive oil for heat more than any other state, per capita.
"The high cost of energy in our state is an issue that every Maine family and small businesses struggles with every day. It is a key area where Maine must do better in order to strengthen our economy, rebuild our middle class, and improve our business climate."
- Here is Rep. Dion's first transgression. He started by talking specifically about heat, and he instantly lost his focus, jumping right into "energy," which is a very broad topic, as you will see as he predictably stumbles through it..
"For over a decade in Maine, we have had a bipartisan energy policy, which encourages energy efficiency and promotes alternative energy."
- So what? A state policy that promotes or "encourages" anything is merely fluff. Do Mainers need to be encouraged to keep more of their hard earned dollars? Silliness. Second, promoting "alternative" energy means what? Mandated PUC purchasing contracts for useless, unnecessary, and unaffordable wind power? Legislature-imposed mandates for a highest in America 35% "Renewable Portfolio Standard" (RPS) in a state where 50% of electricity generation is already renewable? What does this have to do with heat?
"Because of those policies, we’ve seen a decline in dependency on fossil fuels."
Maine's reductions in fossil fuel use have hardly been because of Augusta "policies." For starters, it is because we have been in an extended economic downturn. All energy use rises in a strong economy. Also, Maine no longer burns oil for electricity, despite our largest electric power plant being an oil-fired plant. And peaking in 2007, Mainers reacted to $149/barrell oil by mass fuel switching. Wood and wood pellets, natural gas, and other methodologies leapt to replace more costly and more volatile oil. A creation of Augusta, Efficiency Maine took off, and it has saved consumers lots of energy. But it was mostly funded by federal stimulus dollars and by robbing Peter to pay Paul: Augusta calls the energy taxes it levies in order to fund Efficiency Maine its "system benefit charges." Dirty little secret.
"On average, Efficiency programs have saved nearly $3 for each $1 spent. Homeowners have saved 30-40 percent or more in annual energy bills from efficiency programs."
- As above, saving consumers money is good, but the savings are paid for with our dollars, so 3:1 savings is erroneous. Furthermore, the laws of physics dictate that people who save money on energy will spend the "savings" on energy. Deck chair shuffling?
"Plus, Maine’s investment in energy efficiency and renewable energy has created more than 12,000 jobs in the state."
- Lots of jobs. Yes. That is good. But we bought them. And never trust anyone who tries to convince you they can count jobs created.
"Maine’s efficiency programs are even helping our outdoor sports and tourism industry. Sugarloaf Mountain Ski Resort is using a grant through Efficiency Maine to lower it’s electricity consumption.
We must continue to work to together help lower energy costs, create jobs, and put more money in the pockets of middle class Maine families and small businesses."
- It's a fact that many businesses have the means to pay cash or borrow at low rates to pay for efficiency and conservation measures. Most of them do not need government largesse to do what their accountants and investors tell them to do anyway.
"We must also continue to work to lower our electric costs. But we won’t do it unless we follow a strategic plan that keeps Maine on the right path. We must continue to diversify our energy portfolio, while maximizing efficiency efforts in the short term."
- Strategic plan? The right path? Diversify? Sorry, Representative Dion, but this is banal mumbo jumbo. The "right path" is for Augusta to get out of the way and let markets work, rather than meddling, choosing favorites, mandating unnecessary and ineffective products, and robbing Peter. Maine has a very diverse electricity portfolio. Some states generate 80% or more of their electricty from coal. Maine does not use oil or coal, but our portfolio is about half natural gas, which is stable, useful, and affordable. Almost all the rest comes from an assortment of native renewables. Please stop mandating increases of such things as expensive wind power. Maine is already among the top 5 cleanest electricity states in the nation. It ain't broke, so stop fixing it.
"We need to explore natural gas as a transition fuel to help wean us off our dependence on home heating oil."
- OK, finally back to the original topic: heating. No argument that natural gas is a much better value than heating oil. And cleaner. Just like natural gas is replacing coal for electricity generation all across America, it is also replacing oil in industrial uses. But Maine has inadequate naural gas infrastructure. Markets are responding; compressed natural gas (CNG) is making its way on trucks to large customers. and vehicle fleets are switching from diesel to cleaner cheaper CNG at an unprecedented pace. Only a few larger cities in Maine have natural gas distribution systems, so if Augusta wants to "explore" how to help us switch our homes from heating oil, it should perhaps "explore" how to expand pipelines. But why do you commit the common error of calling it a "transition fuel?" If people switch to a fuel that is in short supply or that is expected to experience volatile pricing in the short term, they could be investing in equipment and infrastructure that is unsustainable. That would be taking risk that is unwise and even foolish. But natural gas is not such a short-term fad that it is expected to be unreliable or unaffordable for several decades. If, 50 years from now there are much better ways to heat our buildings (and there will be), we will "transition" to them when switching is practicable.
"Maine’s Renewable Portfolio Standard, which encourages the purchase of alternative energy power, is helping to successfully diversify our energy resources."
- Egregiously dead wrong. Maine's RPS does not "encourage." It mandates. Further, it is not about "energy power" but about electricity. It is specifically about mandating the most useless and most expensive electricity: wind. Maine has great electricity diversity, as stated above, and diversity makes sense as a hedge against all sorts of ills. But diversity can be taken to extremes. An ALL OF THE ABOVE electricity policy is simply foolish. ALL OF THE SENSIBLE is more like it. We expect better critical thinking from our public officials.
"It has given Maine a significant hedge against high fossil fuel costs. It has also made our electricity generation cleaner and more renewable – which is both good for our economy and the environment now and in the future."
- Dead wrong again. Wind generated electricity cannot either replace or displace fossil fuel generation for the grid any more than a tricycle can replace an ocean liner. Mr. Dion perpetuates the myth that when a windmill in Maine is turning, a coal plant in Connecticut is temporarily switched to "off." It does not work that way, and fooling people to believe that it does is reprehensible. That coal plant cares not what that windmill is doing. It keeps belching soke into our jetstream 24/7. A natural gas generator is more nimble than the coal plant, and can be ramped up and down in response to wind's erratic nature, but it needs to maintain steam, so it rarely shuts off. More usually it increases its emissions becuse it is operated like a car in stop & go traffic. The wind power is a superfluous add on to the grid. Like that lard frosting on the cake: warm & fuzzy, but zero nutritional value, and actually pretty bad for you.
"We’ve seen our investment in this strategy already helping Maine people and businesses. The RPS helped the Verso Bucksport Paper Mill upgrade to a biomass boiler, making the mill’s future and its employees much more secure."
- The Verso boiler is great. But it only needed RPS to compete because wind already had the inside track.
"Maine’s business community has benefited from the RPS program with more than 300 businesses having worked to construct, support, and maintain the state’s existing renewable energy assets. Reed & Reed even started a new division of their construction business specializing in erecting wind-farm turbines."
- Most of the money spent (not invested) on those wind "farm" turbines went out of country, and most of it came from your taxpayer pocket. The rest of the cost will come from high electric rates due to wind's many costs. So yes, great companies like Reed & Reed can do big jobs paid for by our dollars, but wouldn't those public dollars be better spent on something useful and necessary like roads, bridges, and critical infrastructure? We might as well buy a bunch of shovels and pay a bunch of unemployed men to dig ditches, then fill them in again.
"Governor LePage has a plan that will undo energy efficiency, undercut our efforts to reduce our dependency on oil, and stifle job creation."
- This is political brinksmanship, whether Mr. Dion knows it or not. The Governor has no such plan. The Governor certainly favors getting more energy for every energy dollar. That applies to electricity, transport, heating, etc. He talks about it every day.
"He wants to send Maine taxpayer dollars to support Canadian Hydro power with no guarantee that we will get the best deal. This would do nothing to lower Maine energy prices but would certainly benefit Hydro Quebec."
- Seriously? That is sloppy spin. No Maine person or entity proposes sending Maine taxes to Canada. Lots of people, the Governor included, want to better connect to vast renewable electricity generators in Quebec and Newfoundland/Labrador. That would affect ratepayer dollars, but not taxes. And it would positively affect rates or it wouldn't happen.
"It’s the wrong solution for Maine. We should be looking to help Maine companies and Maine people. We should be building off the reasonable bipartisan approach that has helped Maine people and so many of our businesses."
- OK, a couple of things. "Wrong solution." Solution to what? What problem are we trying to solve?
1. Let's say our problem is we want to displace or replace existing New England generators. The only generatos we'd like to get rid of are old coal or oil plants. Those are base load and peak load plants respectively. Two thousand windmills cannot replace or even dislplace peak or base power. But big hydro can. And Canada's high demand season is winter. Our high demand is in summer. Sounds like the makings of a nice match if we want cleaner air.
2. Is the problem that we need to find increasing amounts of renewable electricity to satisfy the annaully escalating RPS mandates in New England states? A good "solution" to that problem is to allow big hydro (from Canada or from here) to qualify as satisfying the renewable definition. This not only stops the government-created need for useless wind power on our mountains, it has the ability to cost a LOT LESS for ratepayers and taxpayers. All the Governor wants to do is allow
3. Is the problem that we need more electricity? Of course not. The Legislature wants Efficiency Maine to reduce Maine's electricity consumption by 30% in 30 years. The ISO New England Grid Operator forecasts annual growth in load (demand) of less than 1%. Maine has 4500 megawatts of generating capacity now, and we rarely use more that a third of that even at peak load. The electricity that we can get from big hydro is like having a baseball player in the dugout who can play any position. It can provide base load, peak load, and load balancing generation. Wind can only provide part-time add-on power. So what does that solve?
We don't mean to pick on Rep. Dion, but we do hope the level of discourse this year will rise above the sort of shallow prattle and lack of focus that has so negatively contributed to Maine's wind power boondoggle and our expensive electricity.