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How a missing word and a few misguided bills could undermine Maine’s energy future

May 22, 2015
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Who knew an “and” could unravel everything? In Maine, we’re seeing just how much damage three missing letters can do.

In 2013, the Maine legislature passed the Omnibus Energy Act, stabilizing funding for the energy efficiency programs led by the state’s third-party administrator, the Efficiency Maine Trust. The law raised the amount of funds going to Efficiency Maine, setting spending requirements as a percentage of retail and transmission and distribution sales. The problem? Despite the clear intent of the legislation, a drafting error left out the “and,” leaving the door open for state regulators to reduce energy efficiency program budgets by nearly $40 million by capping efficiency spending based on just a portion of sales.

The Omnibus Energy Bill was an important step for a state with a shaky past when it comes to energy efficiency. In our State Scorecard, Maine ranked 12th overall in 2011. Just a year later, Maine fell 13 spots in our rankings to 25th, farther than any other state. This drop was largely due to the significant defunding of Efficiency Maine. But in 2013, Maine was back on track because of the Omnibus Energy Bill, and was one of the most improved states in our Scorecard.

Today the future looks uncertain again. Earlier this year, two out of the three Maine public service commissioners took advantage of a missing three-letter word in the Omnibus Energy Bill to slash efficiency funding (and confirmed their decision just this week with another 2-1 vote). State legislators were swift to respond with a quick-fix bill that would add the “and” back into the legislation as originally intended. But the floodgates have opened and, with Governor LePage indicating he would not support the quick-fix bill, a host of other bills have been introduced that would further undermine the state’s successful energy efficiency programs.

LePage is backing a package of bills that, taken together, would dismantle a large part of Maine’s energy efficiency programs. The first bill , LD 1221, takes advantage of the need for the simple grammatical correction to give the governor more control over Efficiency Maine by making its executive director his political appointee.

Even more troubling for the future of energy efficiency in Maine is LD 1398, which would drastically cut the number of Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative dollars invested in energy efficiency programs that reduce heating fuel usage and energy bills for businesses. These programs are some of the most cost effective in Efficiency Maine’s portfolio, delivering more than $5 in savings for every $1 invested. In 2013, the legislature unanimously rejected a similar proposal by Governor LePage’s administration.

Another bill submitted as part of the same package could nearly eliminate energy efficiency funding for industrial customers (LD 1400). While this bill would have immediate implications for manufacturers and large commercial and industrial customers who are struggling to lower costs, its effects will also ripple out to the rest of Maine. Energy efficiency is the cheapest way for utilities to meet demand, and a robust portfolio of programs and services should give all customers—​from low and moderate-income residents to large manufacturers—ample opportunities to reduce their energy bills. Slashing investments in energy efficiency means everyone’s bills go up as utilities are forced to invest in more costly infrastructure options and peak power prices remain high.

In the coming weeks, Maine legislators will have a chance to stop these misguided bills in their tracks. They’ve stopped similar efforts to undermine efficiency before—the Omnibus Energy Bill passed in 2013 was an override of the governor’s veto. Keeping efficiency in play in Maine this time around will take similar legislative willpower. Placing tens of millions of efficiency dollars on the chopping block means putting at risk hundreds of millions of dollars of energy savings badly needed by consumers.

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Authors

Annie Gilleo
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