AUGUSTA, Maine — The Legislature dealt a blow to Gov. Paul LePage’s top energy priority late Friday and into Saturday morning when the House and Senate failed to reach agreement and effectively killed the bill.
LD 1863, one of four energy bills submitted this session by LePage, sought to lift the 100-megawatt cap for qualifying renewable power generation such as hydropower. The goal was to encourage Maine to buy low-cost energy that meets the renewable standard.
As the bill was debated in the Energy Committee, two proposals emerged.
The majority report of the committee altered 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 minority report was essentially the governor’s bill with some minor changes.
The Senate passed the minority report last week, but only after aggressive lobbying by the governor’s energy director, Kenneth Fletcher, and Sen. Michael Thibodeau, the co-chair of the Energy Committee.
When the bill went to the House, though, members voted to accept the majority report. Rep. Stacey Fitts, R-Pittsfield, was instrumental in pulling GOP House members to his side.
Since the House and Senate could not agree, what’s known as a committee of conference was called late Friday in hopes of brokering a deal.
That didn’t happen and the Legislature is now in recess until mid-May, when members have to return to settle some budget matters.
“Lawmakers in the House have a fundamental disagreement with the governor and the Senate on the matter,” said Rep. John Martin, D-Eagle Lake, one of the lawmakers assigned to broker the deal. “The bill will now die between the bodies.”
Democrats, who felt the bill was little more than a “carrot” to entice the only large-scale hydropower producer in the region, Hydro Quebec, were pleased to see it go quietly.
“The governor’s insistence on a giveaway to Hydro Quebec and his repudiation of years of bipartisan energy policy is short-sighted and got in the way of good energy policy for Maine people,” said Sen. Phil Bartlett, D-Gorham. “Hopefully the lesson learned from this is the importance of returning to an energy policy that relies on facts and the best interests of Maine people and businesses.”
Fletcher and the governor did not support the majority report. The energy director said earlier this month that it would create 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 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.