May 24, 2018
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Maine regulators won’t reconsider Efficiency Maine ‘and’ case

By Darren Fishell, BDN Staff

PORTLAND, Maine — State regulators won’t revisit their reading of a sentence that cut possible funding for an energy efficiency program in half, leaving the issue to the Legislature to clarify.

The Natural Resources Council of Maine, the Conservation Law Foundation and the Maine Association of Building Efficiency Professionals together asked the Maine Public Utilities Commission to reconsider its 2-1 vote in March on the case. Maine Public Advocate Tim Schneider filed a separate reconsideration request.

Both requests argued that PUC Chairman Mark Vannoy and Commissioner Carlisle McLean should have considered what they called the clear intent lawmakers had for energy efficiency funding when they passed the 2013 Omnibus Energy Act.

The PUC had two choices in the case: deciding to set an annual funding cap of about $23 million or $59 million for the Efficiency Maine Trust, which subsidizes energy savings projects at businesses and homes.

Lawmakers approved the wide-ranging energy bill expecting the higher cap, but they approved a final version of the massive bill that included a clerical error, removing an “and” that Vannoy and McLean said could only result in the lower cap.

The PUC still has additional oversight of Efficiency Maine’s spending plan within that total cap.

Michael Stoddard, Efficiency Maine’s executive director, said the lower cap stands to limit the agency’s heating efficiency programs in coming years as it expects demand for electricity efficiency projects to rise. State law requires the trust to first make investments for electricity savings that are cheaper than buying the amount of electricity those investments avert.

Vannoy and McLean reiterated their initial decision Wednesday, arguing that the reconsideration requests did not present any new information and can wait for resolution in the Legislature.

“I gave pause to the commission taking this up prior to Legislature taking action,” McLean said.

The cap will affect funding for the Efficiency Maine Trust when it submits a three-year budget this fall, outlining spending starting in July 2017. The PUC recently approved an $18.5 million payment from the state’s electric utilities to the Efficiency Maine Trust for 2016

In his last vote as a PUC commissioner, David Littell, who was appointed six years ago by then-Gov. John Baldacci but not reappointed by Gov. Paul LePage, reiterated his dissent, arguing that the lower funding cap is out of line with the Legislature’s broader intent to increase efficiency funding and hand authority over the process to the PUC.

Opponents have until mid-June to appeal the PUC’s decision against reconsidering the case to the Maine Supreme Judicial Court.

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