AUGUSTA – Republican Gov. Paul LePage and Energy Office Director Patrick Woodcock outlined an energy policy at the State House on Tuesday that contrasts sharply with a Democratic initiative to provide rebates for solar power equipment.
“The United Way last month received 1,300 calls looking for emergency assistance for heating. The Aroostook Community Action Program is directed callers right now to towns, to churches, to non-profits, to avoid the bitter cold,” said Woodcock.
“These are the ramifications of a failed energy policy,” he said.
Woodcock said Maine pays some of the highest energy bills in the country and cannot rely on federal subsidies to ensure families can cope with the cold. “Our policy in the past has been to hope for a warm winter and hope that the federal government will provide heating assistance. Those hopes have been unanswered this year.”
Woodcock said the administration’s efforts would be directed at cost-effect tools that can lower the cost of heating and contrasted that policy with the Democrat-controlled Legislature’s focus on solar power systems. Rather than subsidize solar panels, the administration is looking to provide funding for energy efficiency projects and innovative mini-split heat pumps.
Both Woodcock and the governor emphasized that the administration is not opposed to any form of energy, but is interested in supporting an energy policy that reduced energy and home heating costs.
“We will support any – any – form of energy that will help lower the cost on Maine people,” said LePage.
The governor wants to allow more the harvesting of more Maine timber and to allocate the increased revenues to support heat pump and efficiency-based projects. The heat pump initiative would expand on a pilot project launched in October of 2012 that the administration calls a success.
In contrast to his policies, LePage said the Democratic leadership in the Legislature was focused on giving rebates to individuals who purchase solar panels, an energy policy that does little to help heat homes during the winter and costs all ratepayers.
“Liberal politicians want higher electricity rates for Mainers,” he said. “They want to add to the cost for Mainers.”
The bill LePage referred to is L.D. 1252, a proposal that would offer rebates to individuals who invest in solar equipment. When the bill was debated on the House floor, Republican lawmakers blasted it as a backwards scheme that would take money from low- and middle-income families to wealthier individuals could purchase solar panels. Although House Majority Leader Seth Berry (D-Bowdoinham) entertained the GOP idea of placing an income cap on the rebates, that idea was ultimately sidelined.
The governor said focusing on solar panels but not home heating challenges showed a lack of compassion. He also blasted Democrats for cowtowing to the Natural Resource Council of Maine, the interest group he said scuttled his energy proposals last year.
“The Maine people, whether you like me or not, whether you think I should be your governor, please, please elect people who care for you,” said LePage. “Elect people who want to help Maine people. Not people who are indebted to special interests.”
The governor was joined at the press conference by Republican lawmakers on the Legislature’s Energy Committee and representatives of several Maine businesses, including Evergreen Homes, Summit Natural Gas, Bangor Gas, Maine Natural Gas, Maine Energy Marketers, Emera Maine, and Maine Alternative Comfort. According to Woodcock, these businesses provide products and services that are superior alternatives to solar.