EDITORIALS

LePage twists truth on renewable energy standards

Posted Oct. 09, 2012, at 4:11 p.m.

Gov. Paul LePage asserted in his weekly radio address that Maine’s Renewable Portfolio Standard presents an economic barrier that will hurt families and businesses. But he based his comments on a biased report and bowed to conservative politics instead of facts. What’s more, he used the unwhole information to blast policies supported by an independent candidate for U.S. Senate and the president. His speech was political hogwash.

LePage quoted a report by the Maine Heritage Policy Center and Beacon Hill Institute that said Maine’s current renewable energy standards — which require that some of the state’s electricity be generated by renewable sources like biomass, wind, solar and hydropower — will raise electricity prices $145 million by 2017 and cost Mainers nearly 1,000 jobs.

What he failed to mention is that the 20-page report was produced by entities with an agenda to further conservative ideals; the analysis should be viewed with that in mind. The Maine Heritage Policy Center has a mission to “promote conservative public policies,” and Beacon Hill has a mission to be “grounded in the principles of limited government and fiscal responsibility.” The report — part of a series of publications called Path to Prosperity — says its aim is to “focus on Maine’s overspending and the resulting tax burden … All information is from sources considered reliable, but may be subject to inaccuracies, omissions, and modifications.”

LePage also failed to mention that another report, prepared by neutral London Economics International for the Maine Public Utilities Commission and Maine Legislature on Jan. 30, came to a different, more nuanced conclusion about Maine’s renewable energy requirements: They have both costs and benefits. While the standards may lead to an increase in electricity costs to ratepayers (but a more modest increase than the other report states), they also spur renewable development, which contributes to gross state product, employment and property tax revenues. Other benefits include the potential for emissions reductions, fuel diversification, fuel cost savings and lower electricity prices if renewables displace more expensive generation methods.

The 128-page report emphasized that the costs and benefits do not offer an apples-to-apples comparison, that there are different timeframes assumed for the costs and benefits and that renewable portfolio standards are a small part of generating renewable resource development. It gives a more realistic, impartial assessment of the complexities involved in determining future impacts of energy efficiency policies.

Aside from the reports, though, does Maine really want to incentivize only the cheapest possible energy sources with little consideration of long-term environmental or health-related impacts? Shouldn’t Maine encourage a mix of energy sources, along with energy conservation and efficiency? Given that the state lacks oil fields and coal mines, investing in local energy sources seems like sound fiscal policy.

After claiming that Maine is losing business opportunities because of the state’s renewable energy portfolio, LePage then took a jab at former Gov. Angus King, who is running for U.S. Senate. He said Maine’s first renewable portfolio standard legislation was established in 1999 under the King administration, and it later financially benefited King when he oversaw the development of wind energy turbine farms. But LePage’s claim is skewed.

The rules he spoke of, developed when King was governor, did require electricity providers to supply at least 30 percent of their total sales using electricity generated by renewable sources. But at the time, the percentage of renewable energy being supplied was actually greater than what the rules required. Implying King adjusted electric utility laws for his own benefit — LePage said, “Working the system to pad your pockets does not represent Maine values” — is silly and unfair.

Then, LePage criticized President Barack Obama for spending $90 billion on green energy projects “and failed companies” — a reference to solar-panel producer Solyndra, which went bankrupt even after receiving government subsidies. “As Gov. Mitt Romney pointed out … this is billions of dollars that the president should have spent on other reliable energy sources or to support our teachers,” LePage continued.

The $90 billion is the amount of money in the stimulus that was allocated for clean energy investments, according to PolitiFact. Most of it didn’t go to companies, however. More than 60 percent went to state and local governments and utility companies for energy efficiency, transportation and electrical infrastructure upgrades. The Maine PUC benefited, receiving $27.3 million in stimulus funds for energy projects throughout the state, including residential weatherization, energy audits and business conversion projects. And, speaking of teachers, the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 did provide funding to states to help with their education budget shortfalls.

At the end of his address, LePage said residents must do their homework on the issues and hold elected officials accountable for their actions. We wholeheartedly agree.

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