Activists Stage Protest at PUC Over Natural Gas Expansion

Sep 13, 2016

About two-dozen environmental activists staged a sit-in at the Maine Public Utilities Commission Tuesday afternoon to protest the agency’s decision to have electricity ratepayers finance a potential expansion of natural gas capacity.

The protest, by the group Maine Students for Climate Justice, was meant to get the attention of the three commissioners of the PUC. Specifically, it was designed to oppose the commission’s decision in July to have ratepayers underwrite natural gas pipeline capacity.

“Hey-hey, ho-ho, fracked gas has got to go,” the group chanted.

The group had hoped to confront the commissioners in the lobby, but they were informed that only Commissioner Bruce Williamson was in the building, and he would be in meetings until into the evening.

Chloe Maxmin, a 24-year-old student from Nobleboro, said the group would wait.

“We are staying here for 96 minutes, so it’s one minute for each dollar that the PUC wants us to pay for fracked gas infrastructure,” she said.

The PUC’s decision to green-light the ratepayer-financed expansion immediately drew the ire of environmental groups, which already are working to challenge it in court. They argue that the ratepayers should not have to pay for the expansion, especially for fracked natural gas.

Alyssa Thompson, a senior at Monmouth Academy, said if the state is going to make ratepayers invest in energy infrastructure it should be for renewable energy projects.

Opponents have also cited a PUC staff report advising against the expansion because Maine ratepayers are unlikely to benefit.

The expansion, pegged at roughly, $1.5 billion, is in doubt, in part because of a Massachusetts court decision that ruled against ratepayers having to subsidize private gas projects. Spectra Energy has said it hopes to move forward with the expansion.

The activists said the sit-in was also a show of solidarity for Standing Rock Sioux, the tribe protesting the Dakota Access Pipeline.