What About Maine?
Back in Maine, the Legislature will likely consider a watered-down version of last year’s solar compromise, which aimed to increase solar capacity in the state for rooftop solar residential users, large grid-scale distributed generation sources, cooperative solar and commercial and industrial projects. The bill was vetoed by Gov. Paul LePage and his veto sustained by House Republicans. Currently, the Maine PUC is finalizing rules that would phase out favorable rates for new solar users after 10 years and gradually get rid of benefits for existing rooftop solar producers after 15 years.
Democrat Rep. Martin Grohman of Biddeford — who serves on the Energy, Utilities and Technology Committee — said he would likely get behind separate solar bills for each sector, such as utility-scale and commercial-scale solar, rather than a comprehensive omnibus solar bill.
“It’s my view that … the whole thing is not just a big green boondoggle. There’s opportunity,” Grohman told the E2Tech crowd. “In fact, I’m here to tell you that renewable energy people are cold-blooded capitalists too.”
PUC Chairman Bruce Williamson, a LePage appointee, implied that he would be more amenable to supporting large renewable energy plants than distributed energy sources like residential rooftop solar. “What puzzles me, however, is encountering the assumption in Maine that small is beautiful as well as cheap,” said Williamson. “The assumption is that the cumulative cost to society in many small, beautiful systems is less than the cost of a centralized electricity supply system.”
As for offshore wind energy technology, Williamson expressed concerns about the costs and questioned whether developing more wind would stimulate economic development and create jobs. Speaking on behalf of the Governor’s Energy Office, LePage energy advisor Jim LaBrecque said that energy policy should focus on incentivizing energy efficiency, not making public investments in renewables. Last year, the Legislature overrode an attempt by the governor to hold $38 million in energy efficiency funding hostage because of the omission of the word “and” in a 2013 law.
LaBrecque complained at length that schools waste fuel and money by having large buses that only a few students ride and that the University of Maine leaves the lights on its football field on when there are no games to illustrate his point that environmental groups are ignoring the need for more energy efficiency measures.
“You know what, there is 12,000 people including the president of the university who probably had to buy shades for his house right on campus because the light was coming in, but nobody cared,” said LaBrecque. “And I don’t think that these people who claim that they’re so concerned about the environment and allow these things to happen are really not at all as concerned as they appear to be.”
He concluded with a shot at Democratic legislative leaders, whom he said are “jeopardizing cleaning up the environment for our children” because they don’t want solar and wind to compete “on a level playing field for financial incentives if these incentives are based strictly on performance measures.”
In response to LaBrecque’s tirade, audience member Adam Lee, chairman of Lee Auto Mall, said he agreed that energy efficiency is a place to start, but pointed out that the market doesn’t always work perfectly.
“[The market] is not always rational,” said Lee. “If it was rational, people would buy fuel-efficient cars instead of trucks that get 14 miles per gallon. People make decisions not just based on the money. There was a time that leaded gas was cheaper than unleaded gas. Cars actually run better on leaded gas and cars are cheaper if we burn leaded gas, but lead is poison. So sometimes we make decisions based on factors other than just the marketplace.” -