AUGUSTA, Maine — A controversial bill to fix a typo that could be worth roughly $38 million to the Efficiency Maine Trust sailed through the House of Representatives on Wednesday by a 138-1 vote.
Assistant House Majority Leader Sara Gideon’s bill, LD 1215, which inserts the missing “and” into a 2013 energy bill that included funding directives for energy conservation programs, was authored in competition with a bill from House Minority Leader Ken Fredette of Newport, who proposed fixing the typo but attached language to his bill that would have created a Cabinet-level Maine energy commissioner.
Fredette’s bill is tabled in the Energy, Utilities and Technology Committee, which voted 11-1 last week in favor of Gideon’s bill.
At issue is a ruling by the Maine Public Utilities Commission in March regarding the cap on the amount of money electricity utility companies can be required to give the Efficiency Maine Trust through surcharges on ratepayers’ electricity bills. The PUC interpreted the 2013 legislation as calling for the surcharge to apply to transmission and distribution sales and not the cost of electricity itself. The “and” would include both, generating $60 million or more for the organization annually, which is what lawmakers say the 2013 law intended.
Efficiency Maine runs a range of energy efficiency programs in Maine with the goal of reducing costs. The organization primarily does this by offering rebates on purchases of lights and equipment. Efficiency Maine is governed by a board of trustees with oversight from the PUC.
Fredette said Wednesday on the House floor he intended to amend the energy commissioner language into Gideon’s bill but then withdrew that amendment. There has been little to no public support among lawmakers for Fredette’s attempt to tie the typo fix to creating an energy commissioner, though there is interest in the Legislature for considering Fredette’s idea on its own.
“One of the things that’s important to Republicans is accountability in the Efficiency Maine program,” Fredette said. “My concern in drafting this amendment was to provide that oversight. … I trust the work of the Energy Committee to take a look at the work that is still to be done.”
Rep. Larry Dunphy, R-Embden, was the only lawmaker who co-sponsored Fredette’s original bill, but he switched his support to Gideon’s, which he also is co-sponsoring. He said he’d been assured both bills would come to the House together.
“We had an agreement that we were going to run these together,” he said. “The reason I signed on to both bills is that I really didn’t care how this was corrected. … This has been politicized.”
Fredette’s bill had the support of Gov. Paul LePage, who has said he would not support Gideon’s bill. The only vote against Gideon’s bill in the House on Wednesday was cast by Rep. Ricky Long, R-Sherman.