On Wednesday, June 26, Governor Janet Mills signed into law a pair of troublesome renewable energy bills: LD 1679, “An Act To Promote Clean Energy Jobs and To Establish the Maine Climate Council,” a Governor’s Bill sponsored by Senator David Woodsome of York; and LD 1494, “An Act To Reform Maine’s Renewable Portfolio Standard,” sponsored by Senator Eloise Vitelli of Sagadahoc. Both bills attempt to promote clean energy production by expanding the power of state government and providing handouts to certain renewable energy providers.
The bill sponsored by Sen. Woodsome establishes a new climate change bureaucracy, proposed by Governor Mills earlier this year, comprised of 39 members—35 of whom will be directly appointed by the governor.
The council has no shortage of members and no shortage responsibilities. The objective of this new 39-member Climate Council will be to, “Design, coordinate and integrate sustained energy efficiency and weatherization programs.” Some additional responsibilities of the council include recommending legislation, developing “broad public and private partnerships” and creating new incentives (subsidies) to encourage increased energy efficiency and reduced carbon emissions.
Undoubtedly the most unnerving aspect of the new council is its funding source, which resembles other entities previously established by state government. The bill states that the Climate Council can “solicit and accept funds from any source, public or private, to fulfill its responsibilities under this section..”.
Allowing the council to receive funds from sources both public and private is worrisome given the council’s expressed responsibility to influence legislation under the dome, which, as previously mentioned, is to include developing new incentives for reducing carbon emissions. The bill included an emergency preamble, meaning it became law when the governor endorsed it with her signature.
Sen. Vitelli’s bill, LD 1494, establishes new mandates regarding the percentage of retail sales electricity that must come from renewable resources. The language of the bill requires 80 percent of Maine’s retail electricity sales to come from renewable resources by 2030 and 100 percent by 2050. In order to meet these mandates, LD 1494 lifts the 100 megawatt cap on solar energy while leaving it in place on other forms of renewable energy (with the exception of wind, which was already exempt from the 100 megawatt cap).
Perhaps the biggest flaw of LD 1494 is that it picks winners and losers in Maine’s energy sector. The law allows some renewable energy producers to play by different rules than others. With LD 1494 signed into law, wind and solar energy are now the only two renewable energy sources in Maine not subject to an arbitrary cap on production capacity. This is the result of big, powerful solar and wind lobbies in Augusta, not of competitive market forces.
Another bill was brought forward this session (LD 1027) to remove the 100 megawatt cap on hydroelectric energy, however it was shot down in committee and voted down in both chambers. In fact, some lawmakers who supported lifting the cap on solar opposed lifting the cap on hydroelectric sources. Government should be fair and consistent, either capping all renewable energy sources at 100 megawatts or none at all (in this case, none at all).
The inconsistency in these rules is further complicated by the fact that the newly established Climate Council will be recommending legislation, while at the same time receiving funds from any source willing to donate to it. How long before the Climate Council, like our legislature, is exploited by renewable energy lobbies to change the laws under which they must operate for their own benefit (and at the expense of ratepayers)?
Producing more clean energy is a laudable goal, but it shouldn’t be accomplished through crony capitalism. Simply put, government should have no role in propping up certain industries. It should be left to the free market to determine which energy sources provide the best value to consumers.