Maine’s Republican Party called Tuesday for a state investigation into the operations of a soon-to-be-defunct home weatherization program, alleging that it benefited one of the Legislature’s top Democrats.

House Minority Leader Emily Cain, D-Orono, denied the allegations against her and characterized the Republicans’ charges “as a pathetic political distraction from what’s really going on in Augusta.”

Republican Party Chairman Charlie Webster of Farmington issued a news release Tuesday calling for the Attorney General’s Office to investigate Cain and other Democratic legislators’ involvement with the Maine Green Energy Alliance.

Webster alleges that Cain and several other Democratic legislators benefited from the program, getting energy audits done on their homes or actually working for the alliance. Webster declined to name the other legislators.

“So far, the Maine Green Energy Alliance looks like a slush fund for Democrats,” Webster said in a prepared statement. “This is taxpayer money being used by Democrat operatives to pay for jobs for other Democrat operatives.”

Contacted Tuesday night, Webster said he could not be more specific.

The Legislature’s Energy, Utilities and Technology Committee is expected to review the Maine Green Energy Alliance’s energy audit program and some of the allegations raised by Republicans at a hearing at 12:30 p.m. Thursday in Augusta.

The committee’s Senate chairman, Mike Thibodeau, R-Winterport, and its ranking Democrat, Rep. Jon Hinck of Portland, agree that the public deserves to know why the alliance fell short of its goal of auditing 1,000 homes in its first year of operation.

Seth Murray, executive director of the alliance, said his nonprofit organization has audited 200 homes since the program began in August.

Fifty homeowners decided to pay to have their homes retrofitted with energy-saving features, he said, and Cain was not among them.

Murray said Democrats may have been hired to serve on the alliance’s staff but party affiliation was never discussed during the hiring process.

He said the federally funded alliance will phase out its program by the end of this month. It plans to turn over its balance of federal money – about $500,000 – to Efficiency Maine Trust, a quasi-state agency that oversees the state’s weatherization efforts. It will forfeit an additional $2 million that could have been available had it continued.

Cain said she paid an energy contractor $300 for an audit in September, but she and her husband decided against any upgrades because of the cost – $8,000 to $10,000 – of having the home retrofitted.

Rebates were offered to homeowners who invested in energy improvements.

“In no way did I benefit financially,” Cain said Tuesday in a telephone interview. “I think this is more about the Republicans taking advantage of the fact that I’m in a leadership position.”

Cain’s office also issued a statement Tuesday night, saying, “These baseless charges from the Maine Republican Party are a pathetic attempt to create a scandal out of thin air to distract the public from their own wildly unpopular energy and budget proposals, and their governor, who can’t stay out of trouble.”

 

Staff Writer Dennis Hoey can be contacted at 791-6365 or at: [email protected]