June 21, 2018
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House goes against Senate vote on LePage energy bill

By Eric Russell, BDN Staff

AUGUSTA, Maine — The Maine House voted Friday to accept the majority committee report of one of the governor’s energy bills, reversing what happened on Thursday in the Senate and throwing the measure’s status into uncertainty.

LD 1863, one of four energy bills submitted this session by Gov. Paul LePage, deals with lifting the 100-megawatt cap for qualifying renewable power generation such as hydropower.

LePage and other supporters have said the bill would allow Maine to buy low-cost energy that meets the renewable energy standard, thereby reducing energy costs for businesses and homeowners.

Opponents, mostly Democrats and environmental groups, said the bill does nothing but provide a “carrot” to the only large-scale hydropower producer in the region, Hydro Quebec, without getting anything in return.

Sen. Phil Bartlett, D-Gorham said Thursday there is nothing in the bill that would require Hydro Quebec to sell Maine cheap energy. In fact, he said, the Canadian firm has sold its energy to nearby Vermont at a rate above the market price.

The majority report that was accepted by the House alters the governor’s proposal by creating a bid process that allows the PUC to seek requests and then make a determination about whether to lift the 100-megawatt cap.

The House voted 75-66 on Friday to accept that report.

In a straight party-line vote of 19-16 on Thursday, the Senate accepted the bill’s minority report, which lifts the 100-megawatt cap first and then allows the state to seek long-term contracts.

The measure now goes back to the Senate on Friday in nonconcurrence.

Kenneth Fletcher, the governor’s energy director, said last week that the majority report creates a scenario by which energy providers would have to go through an exhaustive and drawn-out process that might fail to result in a deal. He also said that would encourage providers to look elsewhere.

The bill’s minority report had tenuous support in the Senate until this week when all 19 Republican senators got on board.

The governor had called out lawmakers for not supporting what he wanted on LD 1863 and he also criticized the lobbying influence of other energy providers during the process.

“I do not support Augusta being in the business of increasing costs on Maine ratepayers to pad the pockets of special-interest groups,” he said in a statement. “I believe it is morally and ethically wrong to take more money from those who can least afford it to line the pockets of those that are politically connected here in Augusta.”

Follow BDN writer Eric Russell on Twitter at @BDNPolitics.

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