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  • Maine lawmakers work together to fix energy-efficiency funding cut

    By Ramona du Houx

    A bipartisan group of lawmakers on Wednesday unveiled a bill to fix a printing error in the omnibus energy law and reverse a $38 million funding reduction for Efficiency Maine. 

    “The omnibus energy bill was negotiated in good faith. The intent of the legislation was clear, and the most straightforward and honest solution is to correct that typographical error and move forward. We are a bipartisan group committed to a simple fix for the good of Maine families and businesses, from mom-and-pop operations to big paper companies,” said Assistant House Majority Leader Sara Gideon, D-Freeport, the bill’s sponsor. 

    “To me this is really simple. We shook hands and made a deal, and now we need to honor that deal, just as all of us would presumably do in our personal lives,” said Sen. Roger Katz, the lead Senate cosponsor of the bill. 

    Joining Gideon and Katz in the announcement were cosponsors Rep. Larry Dunphy, R-Embden, and Sen. Bill Diamond, D-Windham.

    “We had an agreement. We shook hands. We all made concessions to make that bill happen. I think it’s a matter of integrity: we simply do what we agreed to do and get on with the business of serving our constituents. We know what the intent was. I don’t think there should be anything attached to restoring the omitted word. It needs to be clean,” said Dunphy, the sole returning Republican member of the Energy, Utilities and Technology Committee. 

    “What you’re seeing today is what we hope will last throughout the session: that is reasonableness – people getting together, Democrats and Republicans, on a clean fix,” said Diamond. “I think 95 percent of Mainers would look at what happened and say ‘My gosh, this is a typo. Let’s clean it up and fix it.’ The vast majority of Mainers would agree what we’re doing is right, that it’s a clean fix and we should get it done.”

    Kibby wind farm had bipartisan backing and the PUC ensured wind energy was part of the renewable energies to use. With the Baldacci administration energy issues were bipartisan issues. photo by Ramona du Houx.

    The bill announced Wednesday is a different one from the one that died last week after

    Republican leaders on the Legislative Council voted against letting it in as an after-deadline bill. The current bill uses an existing bill title as a vehicle and does not need the approval of the Legislative Council.

    The bill will be referred to the Energy, Utilities and Technology Committee, which will schedule a public hearing before making its recommendation to the full Legislature.

     On March 17, the PUC voted 2-1 to lower the cap for Efficiency Maine from $60 million to $22 million as it made rules to implement the omnibus energy law. The PUC relied on the erroneous language of the misprinted law even after it received clarification about the Legislature’s intent from a bipartisan group of lawmakers who had worked on the bill.

    Newly appointed Commissioner Carlisle McLean, former legal counsel to Gov. Paul LePage, joined Chairman Mark Vannoy, another LePage appointee, in lowering the funding cap. Commissioner David Littell voted against the action.

    The word “and” was dropped from a phrase about the Efficiency Maine funding formula after the bill left the committee, creating the nonsensical phrase “retail electricity transmission and distribution rates.” The term “retail electricity” elsewhere in statute and in the energy world refers to electricity supply.

    The PUC sought and received clarification about the legislative intent of the phrase from EUT Committee members who had returned for the current 127th Legislature. The PUC then moved forward with rulemaking on the Efficiency Maine funding formula based on the law as printed with the error.

    The omnibus energy bill, LD 1559, was passed over the governor’s veto after winning overwhelming support in both chambers. There are 81 members of the House and 21 members of the Senate who served in the previous Legislature.

    The bill was hailed for its bipartisan nature and what it would do to create jobs, lower costs for consumers, increase efficiencies, reduce air pollution and improve the natural gas infrastructure.