CREDIT: AP Photo/Robert F. Bukaty
The bill aimed to restore a $2,000 solar energy rebate program that ended last year that helped Maine homes and businesses install solar and hot water projects. This was paid for by placing a one-hundredth of a cent per kilowatt-hour fee on consumers’ electric bills — amounting to what supporters say is about a five-cent per month increase. Uncontroversial enough to pass the House 109-30 and the Senate 22-12 despite much narrower Democratic majorities in both chambers, the bill’s veto leaves Maine as the only state in New England without a program in place to help residents install solar projects in homes and businesses.
The bill’s sponsor, Democratic Rep. Terry Morrison, argued that expansion of renewable energy is good energy policy, telling the Bangor Daily News that “we simply can’t afford to ignore solar energy, which is renewable, clean and helps keep down electricity bills that are rising because of the expansion of transmission and distribution lines.” Maine has among the cheapest energy costs in the Northeast.
“Renewable energy is a strategic asset that Maine should look to expand, not undermine,” Rep. Mike Michaud, LePage’s Democratic opponent in the November election, said in a statement provided to ClimateProgress by his campaign. “Gov. LePage’s efforts on energy move us backward and threaten a growing industry in our state while also hurting our efforts to combat climate change. Our homegrown renewable energy sector creates jobs, reduces the impact of global warming, protects us from price spikes and keeps prices down so small businesses and Maine families can keep more money in their pockets.”
Almost two dozen local Maine businesses asked the governor to sign the bill in a letter because “solar can reduce energy bills, and contribute broader public benefits to the electric grid and the economy”:
Local solar installations represent notable investments in the Maine economy and support good quality jobs that cannot be exported. This has been true in the past and that investment is poised to accelerate in Maine — as it is elsewhere in our region — if we continue wise policies. This bill would leverage $25 million in private investment in Maine by using $2.5 million in public funds. The bill would have the greatest benefit for small businesses.
Several of the businesses, organized by the Natural Resources Council of Maine, pointed to solar installations that had helped their businesses save on fuel costs and even allowed for increased business during the coldest days of winter.
Last month, Lepage criticized the legislature for prioritizing solar during a cold winter, pushing a proposal to add $1 million to the Efficiency Maine Program for projects that install heat pumps and wood pellet stoves, funded by selling timber on public lands (or, as House Assistant Majority Leader Jeff McCabe put it, “[treating] our public forests like a yard sale.” LD 1252’s supporters passed an amendment by Republican Rep. Lance Harvell that would allow the solar fund to be used to make it easier for low-income residents to qualify for high-efficiency heat pump rebates. Rep. Harvell pointed out that heat pumps lower heating oil costs, and lauded the amended bill as “a good example of what gets things done in Augusta, working together in a bipartisan way.”
Despite these efforts, Governor LePage vetoed the bipartisan amended bill.
LePage also argued in his veto letter that the LD 1252 “unilaterally selects solar above other solutions that have proven to be more cost-effective.” Maine may not have the solar capacity that a state like Arizona or New Mexico does, but it is at a lower latitude than Germany, a country which has been breaking records on total and per-capita solar power output. Maine receives a third more sunshine than Germany, yet there were times when that sunshine produced 30 percent of Germany’s total power demand. While the Germans have done this, they have made solar power just as cheap as conventional power.
More important than the electric bill impacts — roughly a two-year payback from installing a heat pump and a ten-year payback for a solar installation — is the job benefits. According to The Solar Foundation, 40 companies employed 790 people in the solar industry in the state of Maine last year. Encouraging more solar investment in the state means that number would grow.
On the same day the Governor vetoed the solar rebate bill, Maine’s legislature overwhelmingly passed LD 1652, which directs the Public Utilities Commission to study the costs and benefits of solar energy, and establishes broad goals for solar energy production in the state. It is not clear whether the governor would sign this bill, though after Friday’s veto and LePage’s past record on energy and environmental issues, prospects could be dim.
LePage has opposed efforts to increase energy efficiency, tried to roll back renewable energy targets, moved to get out of anti-smog regulations, vetoed a bill creating a climate adaptation working group, and touted the benefits climate change will have on Maine after agreeing with a radio talk show host who called climate science a “hoax” and “lying science.”
An administration spokesperson also said that they would not respond to local newspapers that reported on the governor’s environmental and energy record.