By: Cheryl Kaften |
Maine Governor Paul R. LePage (R) sent a letter on August 21 to his state’s legislative leadership, calling for action to reform obsolete and costly energy policies that, he said, are making it difficult, if not impossible, for local businesses to remain competitive.
The letter was prompted by an announcement from Verso Paper about the loss of 300 jobs at its Jay-based mill – a step the company was forced to take just eight months after closing its paper mill in Bucksport and displacing 570 workers in that town.
“The announcement today that Verso Paper Company will shut down two machines in Jay and lay off approximately 300 Mainers is extremely troubling and disappointing—but not surprising,” wrote Governor LePage. “I have said over and over during nearly five years [in office] that we must make Maine more competitive and that capital investment goes where it’s welcomed and stays where it’s appreciated. Every decision I make as Governor attempts to make Maine more competitive. Unfortunately, too many legislators can’t say the same. Their strict adherence to the status quo will surely result in the loss of more jobs.”
Le Page said that his Energy Office continues to collaborate with other states in the region to build cost-effective energy infrastructure that reduces energy prices.
“We are in partnership with four other New England states working to facilitate additional energy infrastructure to expand natural gas and hydropower into the region,” confirmed Patrick Woodcock, director of the Governor’s Energy Office. “The Administration has also proposed significant energy legislation to modernize and lower the cost of state policies that were put in place years ago. We should move forward with bold energy legislation rather than status quo policies that are simply adding costs to employers and not delivering results.”
What’s more, during the last legislative session, Governor LePage introduced three bills to lower the cost of energy for Maine’s businesses –among them:
- An Act to Reduce Electric Rates for Maine Businesses would refund a portion of the pollution auction collected under the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI) back to ratepayers. Specifically, starting in July 2015, 55 percent of funds collected under RGGI (approximately $5.7 million in FY 2014) would be returned directly to business ratepayers, thus lowering their electricity rates. The Legislature carried over this legislation until the next session.
- An Act to Improve Natural Gas Price Competitiveness for Maine’s Manufacturers authorizes the Maine Public Utilities Commission (MPUC) to aid large natural gas users in obtaining adequate natural gas supplies at a reasonable cost. Utilizing the PUC’s existing authority to contract for natural gas capacity, this bill would permit large natural gas users to contract for their own supplies, using the state’s transmission and distribution utilities as the creditworthy ‘backstop’ for the supply contract. The Energy, Utilities, and Technology Committee voted against this bill in June.
- An Act to Focus Energy Laws on Energy Cost takes several actions to reduce energy costs for Mainers. The measure authorizes the Public Utilities Commission to encourage aggregation of distributed generation, thus capturing the benefits of such generation for ratepayers. The bill also makes several changes to the state’s complex renewable energy policies, to encourage procuring clean energy sources at a lower cost. The bill changes the state’s long term contracting authority to focus on lower cost projects, and it eliminates both the net energy billing program and the state’s renewable portfolio standard. All ratepayers pay for these subsidy programs, but at current pricing is doing little to encourage development of cost-effective renewable energy. The Senate passed this legislation, but the House voted against the bill in June.
On the federal level, in May, Governor LePage testified before the U.S. House Energy and Commerce’s Subcommittee on Energy and Power in support of a bill to speed the permitting process and lower energy costs across our nation. The draft legislation aims to improve the permitting of interstate natural gas pipelines, along with a draft bill to reduce the regulatory burdens on hydropower production. Congress continues to consider this legislation, with the House Energy and Commerce Committee passing a version of the natural gas legislation prior to the August recess.