Public Utilities Commission Slashes Efficiency Maine Funding
by Edmund Bridge for MABEP
In a surprise decision handed down on March 16th, the Maine Public Utilities Commission on a 2-to-1 vote slashed funding for Efficiency Maine programs from $60 million to just $22 million a year.
The case before the commission started late last year when the PUC began its rulemaking on provisions of the Omnibus Energy Act enacted in 2013, an act that MABEP played a key role in getting passed. MABEP and others including Natural Resources Council of Maine, the Industrial Energy Consumer Group and the state's Public Advocate, filed comments in the rulemaking case, as did a bipartisan group of lawmakers who had helped pass the Omnibus act over LePage's veto. But the commission's majority--Mark Vannoy and Carlisle McLean, both appointed by LePage--ruled contrary to the comments of the legislators' stated intent.
PUC Chairman Mark Vannoy said he supported the new funding cap because it was based on a clear reading of the 2013 law, which bases the organization's funding on 4% of "total retail electricity transmission and distribution sales." Efficiency Maine advocates have said the law should have been written as "total retail electricity AND transmission and distribution sales," a change that could be sought through legislation this year.
One advocate has likened the ruling to saying that the words "peanut butter jelly sandwich" mean "peanut butter sandwich" because it doesn't read "peanut butter AND jelly sandwich."
It now appears that Governor LePage wants to extract further concessions before agreeing to a 'fix' of the law. Specifically, he wants the legislature to grant him the authority to appoint the director of Efficiency Maine. Readers may remember that the Omnibus Energy act was held hostage two years ago until LePage got legislators to override the state's contract with Statoil, an offshore wind developer.
The governor's move is precisely why MABEP and other advocates of the Efficiency Maine Trust urged legislators in 2009 to ensure its independence from political influence when former Governor Baldacci wanted the same appointment authority.
Two bills are now pending before the legislature. LD 1215, sponsored by members of both political parties, would simply insert the missing "and" into the law. It was given a near unanimous vote in committee and later on the House floor where it is now tabled.
The other bill, LD 1221, sponsored by the House Republican leader, would insert the "and" but also give the governor appointment authority over the director of Efficiency Maine. It would also elevate the Governor's Energy Office to a cabinet-level position. It was voted out of committee on a party-line vote after removing the "and" section. It is not tabled in the Senate. It appears a stalemate may ensure.