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  • 24 Million without healthcare—Why? We have to do better

     

    Editorial by Timothy Burns - the chief radiation physicist at the Lafayette Family Cancer Center in Brewer, where he ensures patients get safe and effective radiation treatments. He is also active in the newly formed Bangor chapter of Maine AllCare.

    I know numbers. I am a radiation oncology physicist, so I use math and science to help physicians and the rest of our team treat cancer patients with X-rays. I’m used to large numbers and complex systems, but hearing the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office’s estimates about the Republican replacement for the Affordable Care Act left me numb. 

    There are a lot of numbers we can discuss in respect to this bill: $880 billion, the cut to Medicaid; $600 billion, the tax cut; 43 percent, the percent of births in Maine to mothers on Medicaid; $7,260, the estimated increase in out-of-pocket costs to a 60-year-old making $20,000 per year in Penobscot County. 

    As bad as those numbers are, the more important number is 24 million, which is really all you need to know about House Speaker Paul Ryan and President Donald Trump’s health care plan. That’s how many Americans the Congressional Budget Office predicts will lose their insurance by 2026 if this plan becomes law. That is a big number. If you remember it, great, but you can leave those numbers to the policy experts for a minute. There is a much smaller number I want to talk about: one.

    We are privileged to live in America. Our industries, ingenuity and ideals serve as inspiration to the world. While we excel on so many levels, we fall woefully short when it comes to health care. The American medical community should be the envy of our peers, but there is one glaring hole. If we get sick, we expect the exams, blood tests, diagnostic imaging, genetic testing, consultations, surgery, chemotherapy, long-term care or whatever medical intervention is called for, but we can get it only if we have the right insurance or the means to pay. 

    In America, arbitrary personal factors often determine if you can get health care at a cost you can afford. You may be eligible for Medicare, VA coverage or Medicaid. Your employer may offer you coverage. This system leaves massive gaps, and that is what puts us in a category of one globally. One neighbor can feel a dreaded lump and get the best care money can buy. Another could feel the same lump and know she can’t afford to pay the doctor’s bill and the grocery bill. She puts off the doctor so her kids can eat. The lump grows, and the cancer spreads. Instead of seeing her children graduate, get married and have kids of their own as her neighbor does, without insurance she dies needlessly and much too young. 

    This, some would argue, is the American dream. Both neighbors have access to the same insurance and care. They had the freedom to choose their care. That’s personal liberty, they say. 

    This is nothing new. As Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. said, “Of all the forms of inequality, injustice in health is the most shocking and inhumane.”

    The evidence is overwhelming and clear: People are more likely to die prematurely when they lack insurance, and the Republican plan will drastically decrease the number of people with insurance. We need our political leaders to know it’s not acceptable in the richest country on Earth to pass laws that could result in thousands of preventable deaths each year. No law is perfect, especially in health care. But the American Health Care Act is not even a good faith effort to insure more people. So, let’s revisit our lonely number, one. 

    We can improve our health care system by allowing everyone to enroll in a plan with a single payer. Another bill, HR 676, is before Congress that would expand Medicare to provide health coverage for all Americans. If you are that one who loses insurance or are priced out of the market before you feel the lump, your lawmakers have failed you. What tax cuts are worth that?

    One is easier to remember than 24 million. Take it from a physicist.

  • Maine could and should be energy independent

    Imagine if we could keep in-state the $6 billion we spend annually on energy?

    Maine has lots of energy, or the potential for it. As I sat through the interesting E2Tech conference on “Aligning Energy Challenges with Compatible Policies,” I kept staring at the beautiful wood fireplace in the Governor Hill Mansion, in Augusta, thinking a wood fire should probably have been burning that morning.

    After all, many of us use wood to generate heat in our homes, and new energy opportunities, from pellets to biomass, do exist here in Maine.

    E2Tech says that it is a catalyst, a change agent, and a resource center that strives to promote Maine companies, support their robust and sustainable acceleration and help them compete in national and global markets.

    The E2Tech objectives of what they call their “road map” are as follows. Achieve energy and cost savings in the residential, commercial, industrial, and transportation sectors. Reduce pollution and greenhouse gas emissions. Support the growth of a robust state and regional energy market and workforce. And facilitate stakeholder and interagency discussions (electric power sector, natural gas supply and transport, renewable energy, and energy efficiency).

    The E2Tech conference was both entertaining and informative. The speakers were John Cornell, of Central Maine Power; Dan Brennan, of the Maine State Housing Authority; Peter Mills, of the Maine Turnpike Authority; Maine Public Advocate Tim Schneider; Michael Stoddard, of the Efficiency Maine Trust; and Jeff Marks, of E2Tech.

    Here is some of what I learned.

    We must reduce carbon production generated by transportation — it is five times more than the carbon produced by electric production. Some predict that in 25 years we’ll all be driving electric cars.

    Maine has the highest per capita consumption of petroleum in New England and our economy is very consumptive. We must encourage low-carbon energy sources — not natural gas. Yes, bring on the wood, wind, water and sunshine. As I’ve written many times, Maine could be energy independent. And just imagine what would happen if we could retain in Maine the $6 billion we now send out of state to pay for our energy.

    I was particularly interested in Stoddard’s report on efforts to make our homes and buildings energy efficient. I got up and told the story of how, about a decade ago, we had an energy audit performed at our house, did everything recommended, and cut our heating oil consumption from more than 1,500 gallons to less than 500. We got our money back in less than three years in the savings on oil. Given the quick and substantial return, I encouraged everyone to work faster to make all Maine homes and buildings energy efficient. Efficiency Maine is doing a great job, but we need to do more.

    Next we heard about opportunities and strategies.

    One was to improve home “envelopes,” particularly basements, and get the next generation of heating systems (heat pumps and pellet stoves) along with LED lights and efficient appliances. Efficiency Maine’s program has installed 16,000 heat pumps in Maine homes, and “not just south of the Volvo line,” Stoddard says. Yes, rural Maine is getting these too. He also reported that we have the highest per capita use of LED lights in the country.

    Mills is always entertaining and he certainly was at this event. But he also asked a serious question: Why haven’t we been able to raise the gas tax for the last 20 years, while our roads and bridges continued to deteriorate? Good question.

    Peter noted that the internal combustion engine transformed our lives, but “it’s done.” He predicted electric cars will take over the marketplace, and said they’re already very popular elsewhere, including Boston. He’s going to build a charging station on the turnpike to serve all of us, especially people visiting Maine.

    He also predicted that self-driving cars will be popular and will enhance safety and reduce energy use. And he predicted that ride sharing, and more mobility via bikes, buses, and taxis, are in our future and would be our biggest public source of transportation. Yes, his talk was thoughtful and provocative.

    For all the great ideas, it was repeatedly noted that we lack the funding to get to where we need to be. For example, there are still 480,000 homes that are not energy efficient. And the level of complication with federal funds make the use of those funds difficult.

    The E2Tech plan includes these initiatives. Accelerate progress to lower heating costs in the residential sector. Consolidate/streamline renewable energy policies to improve their cost-effectiveness and provide market certainty. Support the growth of innovative technologies. Continue pursuit of a regional solution to natural gas capacity constraints. Increase efforts to assist low-income households with high energy costs. Develop a plan to pursue cost-effective energy improvements in state government.

    There are a lot of impressive people working on a plan and timeline to achieve all of this. If you’d like to learn more, several of the talks are now available on the E2Tech website, along with information about their work. Check it out.

  • Maine Passamaquoddy Jeremy Frey wins first-place honor at Heard Indian art fair

    Maine Passamaquoddy Jeremy Frey wins first-place honor at Heard Indian art fair. Courtesy photo

    By Ramona du Houx

    In March, three Native American Wabanaki basketmakers from Maine won high honors at a national Indian art fair in Phoenix, Arizona. Jeremy Frey, a Passamaquoddy, won first place in Division B baskets (natural or commercial fibers, any form). and Sarah Sockbeson, a Penobscot, won second place in the same division at the 59th annual Heard Museum Guild Indian Fair & Market.

    The Heard show is among the most prestigious in the country. It draws nearly 15,000 visitors and more than 600 of the nation’s most successful American Indian artists.

    “I’m just so honored to have my work recognized on the national stage,” said Frey. “It’s more than anyone can ask for, and I am very humbled by this win. It’s recognition like this that keeps me inspired and motivated to create new works.”

    Frey specializes in ash fancy baskets, a traditional form of Wabanaki weaving. He has won Best of Show at the Heard Museum Guild Indian Fair & Market and the Sante Fe Indian Market, the largest Native American Indian arts market. His work has been featured at the Smithsonian, the Museum of Arts and Design in New York City, and in many other prominent museums around the country.

    Sarah Sockbeson, a Penobscot, won second place in the same division as Frey at the 59th annual Heard Museum Guild Indian Fair & Market. Sockbeson incorporates many elements of traditional Wabanaki techniques in her work but uses non-traditional colors, bringing vibrance to her art.

    Geo Neptune, a Passamaquoddy, won honorable mention in Division A baskets (natural fibers and cultural forms) and a Judges Choice award in the same division.

  • Don’t block Maine veterans’ access to their doctor

    Editorial by Assistant House Majority Leader Representative Jared Golden 

    Like many veterans, after serving in the US Marines in Iraq and Afghanistan, getting vital Department of Veterans Affairs medical services helped me transition out of the military and start a new chapter to my life back home in Maine.

    Today, there are veterans who are facing unnecessary roadblocks to accessing the medical services they have earned because state government has dragged its feet on complying with federal Real ID standards.

    That’s not ok. The good news is we can do something now to help these veterans instead of waiting to resolve the larger issue of state compliance with federal ID standards.

    The Real ID Act was enacted by Congress in 2005, but Maine refused to comply.

    We’ve gotten waivers in the past to protect Mainers from the repercussions of noncompliance, but in 2016 our waiver application was denied.

    Now, Maine driver’s licenses don’t meet the new federal Real ID standard, which is being phased in over the next year.

    While Mainers from all walks of life will be impacted beginning in 2018, some southern Maine vets are already facing a problem right now.

    Since Feb. 1, approximately 500 Maine veterans who get their medical care from a VA facility at the Pease Air National Guard Base in New Hampshire haven’t been able to use their driver’s license to access the base because it is not Real ID compliant.

    They need a second form of ID, such as a Veterans Health Identification Card or a US Passport Card to satisfy the Real ID criteria to allow them access to the base and their medical services.

    Unfortunately, many veterans have not received the VA’s new health identification card.

    No veteran should be punished for bureaucratic red tape and uncertainty caused by the state or federal government, especially when it means they can’t access healthcare.

    After hearing about this problem, I proposed a bill to pay for passports for these veterans.

    Several of my colleagues on the Legislature’s Veterans and Legal Affairs Committee figured out, however, that the simplest, most affordable solution is to make sure that these veterans have valid Passport Cards that cost less than a passport.

    LD 213 is an immediate, cost-effective fix which would pay for the impacted veterans to get Passport Cards, which cost about $30 each.

    The bill will only apply to veterans in southern Maine affected by the requirement and any excess funds would be placed in an account to provide assistance to help financially struggling veterans.

    I was proud to see the bill pass unanimously in committee and through the House by a vote of 110 to 8.

    Now, the Senate has to take a final vote next week and the bill will await Governor LePage’s signature.

    From the vets at Pease Air National Guard Base to firefighters and everyday workers trying to go to work on federal bases, Maine’s inaction on Real ID is causing real problems to our families and economy.

    Prominent Republicans including Governor LePage and Congressman Bruce Poliquin have written to the Legislature stressing veterans’ access to healthcare clinics on federal bases as a core reason behind moving Maine towards Real ID compliance.

    Based on that shared concern, I’m optimistic the governor will sign LD 213 as an immediate fix until we can fully comply with Real ID.

    Finding solutions to problems like this one and doing something good to help people faced with a problem they didn’t create is exactly the kind of work that the people of Maine want from their legislators. 

    I’m encouraged by the bipartisan teamwork that has gone into this legislation so far. Let’s keep up the good work and pass this bill into law as quickly as possible for these veterans.

     

  • Family struggles with Maine's retirement system over veteran disability benefits- Rep. Berry has fix

    Wife of former Marine Patrol Officer testified in favor of a fix authored by Rep. Seth Berry

    A Brunswick woman wants to make sure that what happened to her husband and family never happens to anyone else.

    In a public hearing before the Legislature’s Appropriations and Financial Affairs Committee this week, Darcie Couture urged passage of a measure that would make sure disabled veterans who are part of the Public Employee Retirement System qualify for disability benefits if they become unable to work.

    Couture’s husband, Scott, served in the Marine Patrol for over 15 years and, during that time, experienced increasingly serious post-traumatic stress stemming from his service in Iraq. After a while he became unable to work but was denied disability retirement benefits after a particularly unpleasant hearing process even though the VA had determined that he had a service-connected disability. 

    “My concern is that if we do not address this system and change it, it will not be long before we see the death of a veteran, who is so despondent after being grilled in a room about all of his PTSD triggers that he chooses to end the struggle once and for all,” said Couture. 

    After Scott lost his final appeal, Couture eventually connected with Rep. Seth Berry, who submitted LD 521. The measure would change the law so that, in future cases, a VA determination of a service-connected disability would automatically qualify a public employee for benefits.

    Rep. Seth Berry at home in Bowdoinham, Maine. Photo by Ramona du Houx

    “No family should have to go through this,” said Berry, D-Bowdoinham. “PTSD is a major issue that affects many Maine veterans. We need to come together and close this gap before anyone else falls through it.”

    The committee will schedule a work session on Berry’s bill in the coming days.

    Berry represents House District 55: Bowdoin, Bowdoinham, Swan Island, and most of Richmond. He previously served from 2006-2014, the final two years as House Majority Leader.  

  • Bayside Bowl: Maine's best bowling center just got better with new expansion

    New development features new lanes, new bars, new amenities

    On March 16, 2017, Bayside Bowl officially cut the ribbon on its new expansion.

    “This is a great day for Bayside Bowl, our staff, and our customers,” said Charlie Mitchell, managing partner. “We’ve had tremendous partners in the city, the neighborhood, and in the bowling community. There’s no place in the world I’d rather do business than in Bayside and in Portland.”

    The expansion contains 8-new bowling lanes, a mezzanine overlooking the lanes, an old school arcade and a one-of-a-kind rooftop bar and taco truck. In addition to the new amenities, Bayside Bowl now has a 422-panel roof-mounted solar electric system that will offset an estimated 34 percent of its current annual electric consumption.

    The expansion took ten months to complete, and over that time, more than 350 Mainers from 76 different Maine companies worked on the project. The increased capacity will also allow Bayside Bowl to grow its staff from 28 employees to 38 employees over the coming year.

    “Seven years ago, we had a vision for building the best bowling center in Maine,” said Justin Alfond, co-owner. “With this expansion, we now have three additional bars, an amazing rooftop deck, and stand among the best bowling venues in the country. We are setting a high bar for bowling and for our community.”

    Justin Alfond and Charlie Mitchell - proud co-owners of Bayside Bowl. It's become more than a bowling alley - it's a community center for fun and relaxation for Portland's Bayside.

    Bayside Bowl opened its doors in 2010 as Maine’s premier bowling entertainment center. Since then it has become a community center and the focal point in Bayside to have fun.

    Bayside Bowl is now home to twenty lanes, four full bars, an award-winning kitchen, old school arcade, live music, rooftop bar with taco truck, and Maine’s best bowling league, Bowl Portland.

    In April, Bayside Bowl will host the L.L.Bean PBA League Elias Cup and the MaineQuarterly.com Roth/Holman Doubles Tournament. The entire event will take place from April 9th to April 16th.

    The MaineQuarterly.com Roth/Holman Doubles Championship will start on Monday, April 10th with 32 teams and will culminate with a live ESPN show on April 16, 2017 from 1:00pm to 3:00pm.

  • Over $77 Thousand USDA Renewable Energy Grants for Seven Maine Businesses

    By Ramona du Houx

    Seven Maine businesses have been selected to receive Rural Energy for America Program (REAP) grants totaling $77,500 for the purchase and installation of renewable energy systems and energy efficiency improvements.

    The following Maine businesses have been selected to receive REAP grants: 

    • FEDCO Seeds, Inc., in Clinton, has been selected to receive $20,000 to purchase and install a 54.6 kWh ground-mounted solar PV system to benefit their storage facility for seeds, plants and gardening supplies. This system is projected to produce 70,793 kWh annually (replacing 96 percent of their energy demands), or enough electricity to power six homes.
    • Solar Center, LLC., in Arundel, has been selected to receive $19,391 to purchase and install a 26.1 kW solar PV system on three ground-mounted trackers to benefit a newly constructed greenhouse for organic farmers. This system is projected to produce 44,620 kWh annually (replacing more than 140 percent of their historical energy demands), or enough electricity to power four homes.
    • Wilbur B. Bradbury, dba Bradbury Maple, in Bridgewater, has been selected to receive $3,567 to purchase and install a new reverse osmosis system for this maple syrup farm which will concentrate the sap, resulting in decreased fuel oil use for boiling. The system is anticipated to reduce energy demands by 46 percent, saving 11,392 kWh annually, or enough energy to power one home. 
    • Trippcrest Farm, LLC., in Harrison, has been selected to receive $8,081 to purchase and install a 14.85 kW roof-mounted solar PV system to benefit their horse farm. This system is projected to produce 13,961 kWh annually (replacing 100 percent of their business energy demands), or enough electricity to power one home.
    • Harpswell Freezers, LLC., in Harpswell, has been selected to receive $2,534 to purchase and install a 26.5 kW roof-mounted solar PV system at one of their commercial rental real estate properties. This system is expected to produce 29,885 kWh annually (replacing 17 percent of their historic business energy demands), or enough electricity to power two homes.
    •  Power Gripps, USA, Inc., in Sorrento, has been selected to receive $13,228 to purchase and install an 18.4 kW roof-mounted solar PV system to benefit the owner’s business. This system is projected to produce 19,544 kWh annually (replacing 100 percent of their energy demands), or enough electricity to power one home.
    • Waldoboro Environmental Park, Inc., in Waldoboro, has been selected to receive $10,699 to purchase and install a 12.48 kW building-integrated solar PV on a proposed new structure in the business park. This system is predicted to produce 15,622 kWh annually, or enough electricity to power one home.

        REAP provides guaranteed loan financing and grant funding to agricultural producers and rural small businesses for renewable energy systems or to make energy efficiency improvements. Eligible applicants include tribal business entities, cooperatives and electric utilities. Renewable energy sources include wind, solar, renewable biomass (including anaerobic digesters), small hydro-electric, ocean, geothermal or hydrogen derived from these renewable resources. Energy efficiency projects could include upgrades to more efficient motors, adding insulation, HVAC units, and lighting upgrades, among others.

        For more information on this program please contact Cheryl Pelletier, Business Programs Specialist, at (207) 764-4157 ext. 4, or at cheryl.pelletier@me.usda.gov.

  • Latest RGGI auction brings in over $1.5 million - $85 million to date for Maine

     

    By Ramona du Houx

    Maine earned $1,555,662 in The Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative’s (RGGI) 35th auction of carbon dioxide allowances. RGGI is the nation’s first market-based regulatory program to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) pollution and is viewed as a model for other regions.

     Since RGGI’s inception Maine has brought in $85,166,608.15 for weatherization and alternative energy projects, for businesses and homes. Many of these programs and projects are managed through the Efficiency Maine Trust, set up by the Baldacci administration.

    14,371,300 CO2 allowances were sold at the auction at a clearing price of $3.00. Bids for the CO2 allowances ranged from $2.15 to $13.75 per allowance.

    The March 8th auction was the first auction of 2017, and generated $43.1 million for reinvestment in strategic programs, including energy efficiency, renewable energy, direct bill assistance, and GHG abatement programs. Cumulative proceeds from all RGGI CO2 allowance auctions for all the 9 states participating exceed $2.68 billion dollars. 

    In Maine, the program first started when Governor John Baldacci pushed for it’s implementation and had lawmakers introduce a bill. The legislation won unanimous support in Maine’s Senate and House.

    “RGGI is still working and still helping Mainers reduce our energy bills and reduce emissions. It is a win-win and a model for the entire nation,” said State Representative Seth Berry, the House chair of the Legislature’s Energy, Utilities and Technology Committee.

    With ocean acidification on the rise Maine’s lobstermen are worried and have become proponents of RGGI. “Since RGGI’s inception in 2009, we have seen a 35 percent reduction in carbon emissions from power plants and substantial investments in energy efficiency across Maine,” said Richard Nelson a lobster fisherman and member of the Maine Ocean Acidification Commission and the Maine Regional Ocean Planning Advisory Group.

    “The reinvestment of these auction proceeds will help to build on the RGGI states’ track record of achieving emissions reductions together with economic growth,” said Katie Dykes, Chair of the Connecticut Public Utilities Regulatory Authority and Chair of the RGGI, Inc. Board of Directors.

    During Governor John Baldacci’s tenure his energy office developed a 50-year energy plan to help make the state energy independent. Many of the plans components of were implemented before Governor LePage took office, like becoming a member of RGGI.

    Baldacci's clean energy plan focused on how to get Maine off fossil fuels while bringing clean energy jobs to the state. His administration created grants for weatherization of homes and to help new alternative energy innovations like the floating offshore wind platforms and windmills developed at the University of Maine.

    “Year after year, RGGI delivers triple benefits—economic, social, and environmental,” said Jared Snyder, Deputy Commissioner, New York State Department of Environmental Conservation and Vice Chair of the RGGI, Inc. Board of Directors.  “More than a decade ago our states chose to step up in the absence of federal action, and independent reports have found significant payback as a result. RGGI is boosting state economies and lowering consumers’ energy bills while driving down carbon emissions and reducing the harmful health effects of fossil fuel pollution. The RGGI states continue to invest in the health of our communities while providing a clear market signal to power producers.”

     

     

    RGGI History — 

    The first pre-compliance RGGI auction took place in September 2008, and the program became effective on January 1, 2009. 

    In 2003, governors from Maine, Connecticut, Delaware, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Rhode Island, and Vermont began discussions to develop a regional cap-and-trade program addressing carbon dioxide emissions from power plants.

    On December 20, 2005, seven of those states announced an agreement to implement RGGI, as outlined in a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) signed by the Governor's of Maine, Connecticut, Delaware, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, and Vermont. The MOU, as amended, provides the outlines of RGGI. New Jersey is the only state to opt-out of the program under Governor Christie’s leadership, missing out on millions of revenues.

  • LePages' budget proposal endangers state park jobs with private contractor jobs

    Maine's beauty, photo by Ramona du Houx

    By Ramona du Houx

    The Appropriations and Financial Affairs Committee and the Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry Committee held a joint public hearing on March 10,2017 on portions of Gov. Paul LePage’s budget proposal that would outsource two dozen jobs at Maine’s state parks and eliminate management positions involved in overseeing historic sites or public lands.

    The proposal would not save the state any money and would merely shift funding to private contractors. Private companies have no moral incentives to maintain public lands as state workers have to under Maine's Constitution.

    “This state’s best assets - our people, our natural resources, our quality of life and place - are exactly what Mainers and our many, many visitors value about our state parks,” said Speaker of the House Sara Gideon. “Our friendly, knowledgeable and hard-working rangers are part of what makes the experience so special. This proposal is yet another example of a shortsighted vision that neither saves the taxpayers money nor effectively stewards one of our key economic assets.”

    Maine’s more than 50 state parks and historic sites reported nearly 2.9 million visitors in 2016, setting an attendance record for the second straight year.

    But under the LePage Administration, Mainers are paying more to use their state parks. The price of an annual park pass rose 50 percent this year, from $70 to $105, the first increase since 2002.

    In addition since the consolidation of the Department of Agriculture and the Department of Conservation in 2012, the LePage administration has cut the number of staffers throughout the new, larger agency. In some cases, state workers are doing more but not being compensated properly for the extra work. While in other departments - the work isn't getting done.

    “Mainers are paying more, yet the department is forced to do less and less. Key positions are going unfilled and services are being eroded,” said Michelle Dunphy, Chair of the Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry Committee. “It’s only a matter of time before our iconic Maine brand is damaged as a result. Democrats are focused on conservation policies that result in a stronger, more vibrant economy. ”

    The Appropriations and Financial Affairs Committee has now ended its joint committee public hearings. Next week, they will start receiving report backs from the policy committees and hold public hearings on legislation not related to the budget.

     

  • MPUC's anti-solar rules that would raise rates on solar power users - lawmakers need to take action

     Lawmakers could stop extreme anti-solar rules, save ratepayers money and help grow jobs

    By Ramona du Houx

    The amount of solar power added worldwide soared by over 50 percent in 2016, according to data compiled by Europe’s solar power trade body.

    New solar photovoltaic capacity installed reached more than 76 gigawatts just within 2016.

    Most of the increases took place in the US and China. Globally there is now 305GW of solar power capacity, up from around 50GW in 2010 and virtually nothing at the turn of the millennium.

    The dramatic shift in installment has a lot to do with technological advances in the industry coupled with the urgency the climate change threat poses to the world. Add that to the fact — it makes business sense to install solar power as it save consumers and businesses money — and you have a clear path forward for the solar power industry.

    But there is one hitch in Maine—the Maine Public Utilities Commission’s (MPUC’s) new net metering rules include some of the most extreme anti-solar elements in the nation. They will go into effect at the end of the year if the Legislature fails to put a stop to the onerous rules that would make rate payers with solar installments pay more.

     “Under the PUC’s extreme anti-solar rules, for the first time utilities would charge Maine homes and businesses for solar power they produce and consume themselves on site,” said Dylan Voorhees, Climate and Clean Energy Director, Natural Resources Council of Maine. “In the wake of the PUC’s decision, it is essential that Maine lawmakers pass an effective bill that overturns these rules and puts Maine on track to increase our production and use of solar power. But, if allowed to take effect, these new rules will threaten existing and potential new jobs and guarantee that we remain in last place in New England for solar jobs and energy production.”

    Rep. Seth Berry in 2008 at work in the Maine House of Representatives. Photo by Ramona du Houx

    In an expensive new requirement, new solar customers will be forced to install, and ratepayers will pay for, an extra meter for their solar panels — forcing them to pay utilities a fee for solar power they generate, power that never will enter the electricity grid.

    “This rulemaking only underscores the need for the legislature to move quickly to protect jobs, ensure market stability and keep Mainers in control of their energy future,” said Rep. Seth Berry, who is the House chair of the Legislature’s Energy, Utilities and Technology Committee. “The finalized rule by the MPUC takes us in the wrong direction by making major and disruptive changes — despite overwhelming public input regarding risks to our energy and jobs markets.”

    Studies show that solar power delivers valuable benefits to society, the environment and all energy users. Solar is pollution-free, has no fuel cost and eliminates the need for dirty power plants and expensive transmission lines.

    “Clean renewable energy sources are the best pathway our state has to lower energy prices, create more good-paying jobs and lesson our carbon footprint,” said Rep. Berry.

    The MPUC failed to conduct any costs and benefits analysis of this new net metering, so they cannot say with any authority whether these rules will help or harm ratepayers. However, previous studies by the MPUC clearly indicate that increased use of distributed solar in Maine leads to lower electric rates.

    "This rulemaking only underscores the need for the Legislature to move quickly to protect jobs, ensure market stability and keep Mainers in control of their energy future. We urge the legislature to act swiftly to restore good solar policy for Maine’s future," said Environment Maine campaigns director Laura Dorle.

    The best and swiftest solution is for the Legislature to enact an effective law to move Maine forward this session, before these extreme rules take effect at the end of 2017.

    “The Legislature should be setting solar policy in Maine, not the MPUC. With others, NRCM is also likely to file a ‘motion for reconsideration’ with the PUC, giving them one last chance to set aside these extreme changes,” said Voorhees.

    The Office of the Public Advocate, which represents ratepayers, testified last year that it had “significant concerns with the rules,” noting they “include provisions that are unclear, unworkable, and potentially unlawful.”

    Public opposition to this policy included more than 4,000 comments received by the MPUC. Polling shows that a strong majority of Mainers from all counties and political affiliations oppose this rollback.

     

  • Republican Health Care Plan Will Cost Older Americans, Uninsured, Women More

    By Ramona du Houx

    The House Republican plan to replace the Affordable Care Act, which has provided thousands of Mainers will access to affordable, high quality health care, is a shame and will cost older Americans, the uninsured and woman more.
     
    “The Affordable Care Act has saved thousands of Mainers from losing their lives or going bankrupt simply because they got sick. Republicans have had seven years to come up with an alternative health care plan that preserves the progress we've made under the ACA —one that would not take us back to a time when only those who had employer-sponsored insurance or a clean bill of health could get coverage," said Congresswoman Chellie Pingree.

    "But after all of this time, they’ve come up with a plan that will cost older Americans up to five times more, charge the uninsured 30 percent more to buy coverage, defund Planned Parenthood, cut Medicaid significantly, and still has no price tag. I look forward to an open debate on this proposal and expect my Republican colleagues not to forget the millions of Americans for whom the Affordable Care Act has been a lifesaver, including thousands in Maine who’ve shared their stories with me.”
     
    In January, Congresswoman Pingree asked her constituents to share their ACA stories and within a few days more than 1,000 were submitted. Please take a look at the vedios here.

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