House votes 131-7 to support compromise bill that addresses natural gas, efficiency

Posted June 07, 2013, at 4:22 p.m.
Last modified June 07, 2013, at 6:41 p.m.

AUGUSTA, Maine — Members of the Maine House followed suit with their Senate colleagues Friday, greenlighting a comprehensive energy bill with a decisive 131-7 vote.

The bill is a far-reaching proposal aimed at expanding New England ’s natural gas infrastructure, boosting funding for energy efficiency, directly lowering businesses’ electricity costs and making it more affordable for residents to abandon oil heat. The legislation is a compromise measure that incorporates elements from 12 different bills proposed by lawmakers from both parties.

“In all of my 24 years here in Augusta, this is one of the most important things we have considered doing to make Maine a better place to work and live,” said Rep. Barry Hobbins, D-Saco, the House chairman of the Legislature’s Energy Committee and an author of the bill.

The House vote on the energy bill came a day after the Senate voted 28-7 to approve it. Later on Friday, the Senate took final action on the bill. It now heads to Gov. Paul LePage.

LePage hasn’t pledged his support — the Senate on Thursday killed two LePage-backed amendments to the bill — but the margins of support in the House and Senate would allow those chambers to override a LePage veto if legislators stick with their original votes.

The bill would allow Maine to buy capacity in new pipelines as a way to spur expansions of a constrained natural gas infrastructure in the region. The intent is to erase the difference between the much higher natural gas prices paid in New England and the rest of the country.

If the state purchases capacity, it could then enter into energy cost-reduction contracts with natural gas generators by selling capacity in exchange for rates that reduce electricity costs.

The specter of the energy bill passing has already piqued the interest of pipeline developers who are considering expansion projects in New England. Representatives from Kinder Morgan, a major pipeline developer planning an expansion in Massachusetts, met earlier this week with LePage.

The bill also boosts funding for energy efficiency programs, using funding from carbon emission allowance auctions through the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, or RGGI, and $82 million the federal government has paid Maine for failing to remove 550 metric tons of spent nuclear fuel from the defunct Maine Yankee nuclear plant in Wiscasset.

The efficiency and conservation programs, which are administered by the Efficiency Maine Trust, would help industrial facilities cut back on greenhouse gas emissions and offer help to homeowners to weatherize their homes. Efficiency Maine, under the bill, would also be charged with administering a program suggested in previous legislation from LePage that offers homeowners rebates to help them convert to more efficient home heating systems.

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