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.
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Frank – this is great analysis and honestly about the level of seriousness that Maine’s Governor should be taken in regards to energy policy. However, like his role model Trump, it seems that the bombastic nature of the Twitter storm is also probably a ruse to get people riled up such that the rather extreme ruling of the PUC becomes ‘normalized.’ The PUC’s ruling is not at all good for solar. It slashes the T&D benefit over 10 years in a way that bears no relation to solar’s value to the grid, introduces a measure where the utilities will be able to tax behind the meter production (!!!) and also keeps arbitrary limits on net metering project size and member size of solar farms. Maine can and should do better on solar policy to modernize its grid and foster competition; we (speaking as a solar worker in Maine) hope that the legislature is able to lead where the Governor and his appointments have fallen short.
Thanks for the feedback. I suppose to me (not being a solar worker in Maine), the compromise only seems reasonable in relation to LePage’s other plan, which was to eliminate net-metering immediately. And as a Maine solar worker, do you have any idea what LePage’s REAL agenda is? He supported the rules when they were originally proposed and now disavows them and blindly threatens the commissioners. And I think you may have it a little turned around; I would say LePage is Trump’s role model instead of the other way around. LePage has been doing this even longer than Trump has. But the similarities are unmistakable (and distressing).
Frank – right, that was sort of my point (by continuing to espouse his extreme plan, LePage makes the PUC ‘compromise’ look OK). LePage’s agenda far as anyone can tell is to build a gigantic NG pipeline that he’s convinced we need even though the very same PUC ruled that building said pipeline would be un-economic. This is the double-think world we live in: Solar which is proven to be a cost-effective solution, provides independence and local jobs, is decried as bad for business, while NG infrastructure which would tie us up to an energy resource out of our state, after spending billions of dollars which we’d probably never get back in the form of lower rates (they’re talking about funding the NG pipeline from a utility surcharge) is somehow the panacea. Facts don’t seem to matter anymore.
However the legislature is a little more level-headed and we have allies including, importantly, Maine’s rural areas, who understand that solar is a small, but fast growing, indigenous industry (as of this writing no out-of-state-owned solar companies operate in Maine, at least not that I know of) with a huge amount of potential to grow our economy and also preserve Maine’s record for environmental excellence – which, importantly, has always been a bipartisan issue…
Everyone in Maine is proud of our natural resources and millions of people come here each year to see them. Might as well take care of them and build the economy too, right?
Well, BAF (Before Alternate Facts), you’d think so. But in the world we live in now, I wouldn’t be willing to put my next paycheck about whether or not that would make sense to everyone. It’s just…..bizarre.
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