Maine Governor Paul LePage is famous for his bullying attempts to silence critics and force the legislature to do his bidding. Now he’s taking to Twitter and holding press conferences to attempt to strong-arm the Public Utilities Commission (PUC) into rescinding its solar net-metering compromise decision reached last month.
The attempts to bully the commissioners into resigning over the decision, following threats last week to fire them, appears to be the first time a state executive has attempted to influence state solar policy in such a way.
Last week, LePage said in his State of the State address that he would like to fire the three commissioners immediately over the solar compromise, despite not having the power to do so. All three commissioners were appointed by LePage, and one commissioner’s term is up at the end of the year. He’s also discussed expanding the current three-commissioner board to five to give businesses a bigger role in the ongoing utility discussions.
Like his hero, Donald J. Trump, LePage’s tweet storm started during his press conference on Friday, where he told the assembled press corps that he would urge the three-member PUC “to resign in a heartbeat,” saying their “absolutely horrendous” January decision on solar policy will hurt most of the state’s electricity ratepayers, according to the Bangor Daily News.
In his tweets, LePage first condescendingly told his fewer than 9,000 followers about how he was schooling the press on how solar was driving up electricity rates in the state and harming non-solar consumers through a cost-shift – a claim undercut by his own Governor’s Energy Office (GEO) study that explained solar customers would actually save other ratepayers $750 million over 20 years.
Then, offering evidence of businesses not coming to Maine because it has the 11th highest electricity rates in the nation (but again not explaining how solar contributes to those high rates), LePage tweeted that the high energy costs prevents Maine businesses from expanding.
His final tweet said solar was still the province solely of the wealthy and accusing lobbyists of pushing “Big Solar’s” agenda, despite ever-increasing evidence that because of the precipitous decline in installed solar prices combined with innovative financing structures, solar power is now the fastest growing industry in the United States and powers more than 1 million homes across the country.
It should be noted that the head of the GOE’s Paul Woodcock resigned in November and decried the influence of lobbyists on energy policy in the state, though he didn’t specify to which lobbyists fueled his decision.
After originally promising to fill Woodcock’s position last month, LePage informed the press on Friday that he would not fill the position.
The “horrendous decision” to which LePage referred was a compromise reached last month that guarantees net-metering rates will remain at the current retail rate for the next 15 years for current solar customers and diminish over time for anyone installing a solar system after Jan. 1, 2018.
The ruling brought to an end a year-long conversation about how to modify net metering rules in Maine. In January 2016, Central Maine Power Co. informed the commission that solar generation made up approximately 1.04% of its annual peak demand.
As a result, the utility asked for changes to the net-metering rules to reflect its increased impact on the utility’s operations. The commission then offered a proposed rule in September, which received hundreds of comments from affected stakeholders.
Maine’s net-metering discussion has not been without its own controversies. The proposed changes, which had been supported by LePage but that he is now decrying, would have grandfathered previous net-metering agreements for a period of 15 years and set the limit for new systems at 10 years.
It would also have “protected” non-solar customers from having to shoulder transmission-and-distribution (T&D) costs solar customers do not have because they consume the electricity they produce on site, despite numerous studies that prove the cost-shifting argument is a sham.
The final ruling was an attempt to thread the needle of those false concerns, by bringing down the incentive gradually while locking those rates in for 15 years after the system is installed.