In what may be the opening skirmish in a long battle over the three-year budget for Efficiency Maine, the Natural Resources Council of Maine is accusing the LePage Administration of seeking to reduce funding for weatherization and for home heating system improvements.
The LePage Administration says that is just not true.
Efficiency Maine is the independent state agency that provides subsidies to homeowners and businesses to improve energy efficiency in homes and in the workplace. The agency is working on a new three-year budget starting next July and at a board meeting earlier this week State Energy Office Director Patrick Woodcock, a member of the agency's board, moved to maintain current spending levels for those programs, $2.5 million less a year than what agency staff recommended. Dylan Voorhees of the Natural Resources Council of Maine says the higher amount is what is needed.
"Efficiency Maine has developed the draft of their plan with all of that money being spent for energy efficiency and half of that money going to specifically home energy efficiency program to lower heating bills and all of the stakeholders that I am aware of support that," says Voorhees.
Woodcock says that is only the proposed budget. Legislation telling the board how to allocate the funds runs out next June 30th and lawmakers could make changes during the upcoming session.
"We also want to make sure that the legislature has a role here in making these decisions," Woodcock says. "This is a lot of money and what the board did was vote to flag this to the legislature for direction on how we should use these funds."
Voorhees disagrees. He says the legislature has been clear in asking for additional resources for efficiency programs and he says the board needs to act before lawmakers return in January so the budget can be reviewed by the Public Utilities Commission which has to approve the budget. He rejects Woodcock's assertion that his motion was to simply ensure that programs continue at their current funding level.
"Hiding behind these sort of procedural issues, the fact is the administration has repeatedly taken actions to draw money away from energy efficiency," Voorhees says.
Woodcock says the arguments of Voorhees and NRCM miss the substance of the issue. He says the administration has consistently supported energy efficiency programs.
"This is one of the biggest energy priorities for the administration and it kind of unites everyone in the legislature as well," Woodcock says. "They see the need as well. And I am kind of disappointed that they use this preliminary vote as a way to just simply try to do another round of attacks."
Work on the three year spending plan for Efficiency Maine will continue at next month's board meeting. Voorhees hopes the board will reconsider its vote and adopt the higher spending levels for programs recommended by agency staff.