A proposal to prohibit natural gas companies from installing new natural gas infrastructure for Maine homes has resurfaced in the second regular session for the legislature, a session typically reserved for emergency bills.
The bill, LD 2077, was proposed by one of the Energy, Utilities, and Technology Committee’s chairs, Rep. Stanley Zeigler (D-Montville).
The proposal would prevent natural gas companies from expanding infrastructure into new areas and force new customers in areas that already have infrastructure to pay the full cost of their home’s natural gas hookup.
Beginning January 1, 2025, the Maine Public Utilities Commission would not be allowed to approve any gas utility to serve a customer in any municipality that is outside of the gas utility’s service area on June 30, 2024.
The Committee on Energy, Utilities, and Technology (EUT) held a public hearing on Tuesday to discuss the proposal, which supporters believe will reduce emissions of greenhouse gases and thereby lower global temperatures.
Not everyone agreed that it was the proper role of government to intervene in Maine’s energy markets in such a manner.
“I believe that this proposed legislation is not only a clear case of government overreach, but also causes further harm to hardworking Maine taxpayers, with an increased cost for existing gas customers,” said Rep. Joseph Underwood (R-Presque Isle) who spoke against the bill.
If the bill passes, companies would be prohibited from offering new customers any promotional deals to reduce the cost of a gas hookup and would be banned from subsidizing the cost of new customers by changing the gas rates of existing customers.
Supporters included Public Advocate Bill Harwood, Jack Shapiro of the Natural Resources Council of Maine (NRCM), and many other members of environmental groups.
Harwood opposed natural gas, in part, because he believes that the natural gas customers are essentially captive, and will be forced to pay whatever rate the company chooses.
Rep. Larry Dunphy (R-Embden) opposed that objection, on the grounds that “renewable” energy sources have the same, if not worse, problems with captive customers.
“Talk about captive customers with gas, looks like we’ve done the same thing with wind, solar, and offshore wind, where the hell else are they going to get their energy from?” asked Rep. Dunphy.
Proponents of the bill also opposed natural gas on the grounds that some data suggests that significant amounts of methane have been leaked from natural gas pipelines.
After four people spoke in favor of the bill, Rep. Zeigler, concerned with the hearing running too long, decided to move forward with those speaking against his bill, before returning to hear more speakers in favor.
“Unless we want to be here until the methane emitting cows come home, we want to limit our amount of questions,” said Zeigler.
Kurt Adams, the CEO of Summit Systems, spoke against the bill, and denied claims that natural gas leaks were happening in Maine.
He pointed out that Summit Systems does its own audits of its natural gas lines, and has found no evidence of leakage, and suggested the bill’s proponents were using national data to support their claims rather than Maine specific data.
“This bill represents a national conversation that people are trying to import to Maine” said Adams.
Other people who spoke against the bill include everyday Mainers, such as Mark Chassie, who previously worked in the medical field, and Jenny Flood, a self-described “dairy farmer and mum.”
Flood’s farm was connected to the natural gas system and now produces negative-carbon natural gas by using the methane emissions from cow manure to produce energy.
Even the liberal Senate President Troy Jackson (D-Aroostook) came to testify against the bill.
Although he was careful to voice his support for the state’s move to renewable energy, he was opposed to the bill, which he believed would harm Mainers trying to heat their homes.
He was particularly opposed to its effect on Northern Maine, which has not yet had any natural gas infrastructure installed, since the bill would prevent the services being brought there.
Sen. Jackson went so far as to call the bill “anti-Northern.”