AUGUSTA, Maine — Supporters of a citizens’ initiative that would require utilities to produce more clean and renewable energy failed to gather enough signatures to put a question on the November ballot.
Maine Citizens for Clean Energy was scheduled to meet at the State House on Monday afternoon, presumably to announce that it had gathered more than the 57,000 signatures needed for a citizens’ initiative.
Instead, the group canceled its event early Monday and announced later in the day that it will continue to gather signatures with the intent of bringing the issue back in 2013.
“Going for the 2012 ballot was always a race against the clock. Despite the incredible enthusiasm from the public and from hundreds of campaign volunteers, the clock was just a little too fast for us to hit the deadline for the 2012 ballot,” said David Farmer, spokesman for Maine Citizens for Clean Energy.
Just two weeks ago, as the initiative faced increasing opposition led by Gov. Paul LePage, supporters said they were confident that they would meet Monday’s deadline for signatures.
The initiative sought to increase the amount of Maine’s electricity that comes from new, renewable energy sources — such as wind and solar — and also would require utilities to invest in energy efficiency whenever it would reduce energy costs for ratepayers.
Maine law says the state’s electricity providers must demonstrate that a percentage of their portfolios is made up of new renewable sources, which essentially have been in operation only since 2005.
When the current law passed, it set out a schedule to increase the amount of new renewable sources each year, beginning with 1 percent in 2008 and ending with a 10 percent increase by 2017. As of Jan. 1, 2012, the mandate is that no less than 35 percent of energy must come from renewable sources.
Under the proposed referendum, the target for 2017 would be a 14 percent increase and it would set a new goal of 20 percent from new renewable sources by 2020. That means 50 percent of all energy in eight years would come from renewables.
In the last few weeks, opposition to the initiative has mounted. LePage on several occasions — including during his State of the State address — rejected the citizens’ initiative and said it serves only to pad the pockets of special interest groups.
On Monday, the governor was pleased that the initiative stalled.
“It is a great day for Mainers,” LePage said in a press release. “Their failure to gather signatures is an indication that hardworking Mainers are skeptical of this job killing proposal.”
“I have spoken out in opposition of this measure citing estimates that this mandate would increase costs on Maine ratepayers by $44-80 million,” he said. “I do not support Augusta being in the business of increasing costs on Maine ratepayers to pad the pockets of special interest groups.”
Farmer said he knows a lot could change between now and 2013 but he predicted that the backers of clean, renewable energy would continue to talk about the benefits.
“We can’t predict the future but we do know that investment in efficiency is most cost effective and that’s for homeowners and business,” Farmer said. “That’s an idea that’s not going away.”
Over the weekend, a political action committee called Stop Taking Our Paychecks formed to oppose the measure if it went to ballot. The group’s spokesman, Chris O’Neil, said the proposal is misguided, driven by ideology and would increase costs for Maine’s ratepayers.
“At this point it’s difficult to know why they pulled the plug. It could be that they read the writing on the wall and figured out that the mandate was dead on arrival,” O’Neil said in a statement late Monday. “Or it could be that despite having lots of special interest money, political operatives, and paid signature gatherers, the increasingly aware Maine voters just said no when asked to sign.
“I’d like to think they got the news that we registered our PAC yesterday and I gave them the cold feet. Regardless if they want to bring this back in June or November we will be ready.”