YARMOUTH, Maine — Democratic gubernatorial candidate Mike Michaud on Tuesday took several shots at Republican Gov. Paul LePage regarding the incumbent’s record on energy and environmental issues.
Speaking during an Earth Day event organized by the Sierra Club of Maine at the Yarmouth Town Landing, Michaud said LePage has stood in the way of efforts to boost clean solar and wind energy and dragged his feet on preparing the state to deal with the effects of climate change.
Against that backdrop, Michaud — currently a member of the U.S. House of Representatives — presented a handful of policy proposals related to climate change, and said they could be implemented on Day One if he is elected this November. Michaud is running in a three-way race with LePage and independent candidate Eliot Cutler.
“I’m more optimistic than ever that despite the time squandered in the last three years by Gov. LePage’s administration, we can get our state back on the right track,” he said.
Michaud has announced an ambitious goal of cutting Maine’s use of home heating oil in half by 2030. To do so, Michaud said he would launch a solar power initiative to lower the cost of solar panel installation through an expanded Net Energy Billing Program that would provide bigger grid payments for rooftop solar energy production.
He also said he would require all new homes to purchase energy ratings, which would give information to potential buyers about how much it would cost to power and heat the building.
Lastly, he said, he would create a “Municipal Energy Leadership Initiative,” a voluntary program to reward Maine towns and cities for investments in energy efficiency.
Maine’s energy costs, though comparatively low regionally, are among the highest in the nation, which the governor has said is dampening businesses’ willingness to invest here.
While Michaud and the Sierra Club see inherent value in clean energy as a means of reducing the pollution that contributes to climate change, LePage has said reducing cost is the top priority of his energy agenda. He has been a foe of solar and wind development in Maine, saying both are not yet cost-effective.
Recently, LePage vetoed a bipartisan bill to provide rebates for home solar installation, which would have been paid for by a new tax on ratepayers that would have equaled about 60 cents per year for the average homeowner. The governor said it was unfair to ask ratepayers to pick up the tab to reimburse those who could afford the upfront cost of solar installation. The House overrode the veto, but the Senate sustained it.
Michaud criticized the veto, and LePage’s longtime opposition to wind energy.
“When it comes to alternative energy, Gov. LePage continues to stand in the way of progress,” Michaud said. “His war on the wind industry is hurting our state. Major investments that would have created jobs for Mainers have been chased away. It’s wrong.”
Michaud was referencing a bureaucratic coup by LePage that caused Norwegian energy giant Statoil to pull the plug on a $120 million pilot project for offshore wind last summer. After a two-year process, Statoil already had received preliminary Public Utilities Commission approval for its project when the governor muscled a plan through the Legislature to reopen the bidding process to the University of Maine, which collaborated on a competing offshore wind energy pilot project that was not far enough along when the PUC issued its initial request for proposals.
LePage said his intention was to ensure any potential offshore wind development would be spearheaded by a Maine institution, with funding from Maine investors.
When asked about the UMaine project, which launched its first test turbine last year in Castine, Michaud said LePage’s interest in keeping wind development in-state was a smokescreen.
“The governor has made it clear, he’s opposed to wind power,” Michaud said. “If he’s really interested in helping UMaine, we would have seen a lot more support for wind energy.”
LePage’s campaign chief, Brent Littlefield, said Michaud’s criticism of the Statoil situation amounted to “an attack on the University of Maine,” and that “Michaud’s policies would force seniors citizens, families and small businesses to pay more” for energy. Littlefield also touted the governor’s efforts to expand the availability of natural gas, which can dramatically reduce home heating costs.
In a written statement, Crystal Canney, Cutler’s campaign spokeswoman, criticized Michaud for not including detailed, specific plans for funding his energy initiatives.
Follow Mario Moretto on Twitter at @riocarmine.