We don’t have oil wells in Maine. We don’t have coal mines. We import natural gas through pipelines that originate far outside our borders.
But we do have a source of energy in our state that comes to consumers at half the cost of power produced by those other sources and results in none of the pollution.
It’s conservation. For a price equal to 4 cents or less per kilowatt hour, consumers can reduce their energy needs, their energy bills and have more money in their pockets. This is as true for a homeowner who pays for heat and lights as it is for a manufacturing plant with competitors in energy-rich states. We’ve all known for a long time that the cheapest form of energy is the energy that is not used, and Maine’s instrument for promoting conservation, the Efficiency Maine Trust, just had its best year ever in reducing demand for energy, consequently reducing costs to housholds and business. Maine’s economy would only benefit by its continuing to produce more savings.
So it’s strange that Gov. LePage has picked this moment to introduce a bill that undermines the Efficiency Maine Trust and puts conservation efforts at risk in the name of reducing the price of electricity.
LePage says that his reform of the Efficiency Maine Trust, which is overseen by the Maine Public Utilities Commission and funded in part by a surcharge on electric bills, would make it more accountable to elected officials, but it would really make it vulnerable to future governors and legislators who want to grab the money it collects and use it for other purposes. This fall, LePage wanted to do just that to offset loses of federal low-income heating assistance.
Conservation should be one area free from polarized politics. There is no political constituency for waste, and members of all political persuasions should be able to come together to support an independent agency that made improvements last year projected to avoid $450 million in wasteful energy spending over time.
LePage is right to want to do something about the high cost of energy, but interfering with efficiency is not the right way to go about it.