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Politics

Republicans Block Bill Aimed at Fixing Energy Efficiency Funding Glitch

AUGUSTA, Maine - Republicans on the Legislative Council blocked consideration of a bill aimed at overturning a controversial Maine Public Utilities Commission decision that would slash funding for energy efficiency programs.

House Republican Leader Ken Fredette, who last week called for legislation to clarify the issue, moved to block a potential fix.

At issue is a two-to-one vote by the PUC where Gov. Paul LePage’s two appointees, Mark Vannoy and Carlisle McLean, chose to follow the precise wording of the sweeping omnibus energy bill passed by the Legislature in 2013.

The problem is that a single word was missing from a crucial definition in the law. And so instead of increasing the cap on funding for Efficiency Maine, as the Legislature intended, commissioners voted to limit it.

Rep. Sara Gideon, a Democrat from Freeport, proposed legislation that would add the missing word to the definition. "We are looking for the simplest solution," she says. "We simply want to add the word 'and' back in, honor the original intent of the Legislature when we passed the energy omnibus bill and restore funding to Efficiency Maine."

The Legislature intended a cap of nearly $60 million per year, while the PUC’s decision caps spending at about $22 million. That significantly reduces funding for programs Efficiency Maine offers to both homeowners and businesses.

While he believes the higher figure was the intent of the Legislature, House Republican Leader Fredette says the PUC was correct in following the letter of the law. He is preparing a separate bill that he says will accomplish that goal.

"We are in the conversation phase of making sure, as the path goes forward here, that we are able to get everybody on board in terms of what the fix is in this," he says, "and that includes both the House and Senate and the governor’s office."

Fredette says having several competing bills to address the problem would not be wise. Gideon disagrees. She says the bill Fredette has been discussing goes beyond just fixing the problem with the PUC's interpretation and makes other changes to Efficiency Maine.

Fredette says he has not yet decided on the content of his bill. The PUC has been formally asked to reconsider its decision, and if they don’t, the Natural Resources Council of Maine may take the issue to court.