May 23, 2013

Maine bill to lower power costs up for vote

It has strong support in committee, but a planned new fee draws criticism.

By Tom Bell tbell@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

AUGUSTA – A legislative committee is expected to vote Friday on an ambitious proposal aimed at lowering Maine's high electricity and heating costs.

click image to enlarge

In this April 2011 file photo, Mt. Katahdin looms over electrical transmission lines that lead to the closed Katahdin Paper Mill and other hydroelectric dams along the Penobscot River. A legislative committee is expected to vote Friday, May 23, 2013 on an ambitious proposal aimed at lowering Maine's high electricity and heating costs.

Gordon Chibroski / Staff Photographer

The compromise legislation incorporates ideas from at least nine separate bills, including proposals introduced on behalf of Gov. Paul LePage and Democratic leaders.

The bill would enable Maine to make financial commitments to encourage the expansion of natural-gas pipelines into New England, increase funding for energy-efficiency efforts and provide financial assistance to help low-income families switch to more affordable heating systems.

Sen. John Cleveland, D-Auburn, co-chair of the Legislature's Energy, Technology and Utilities Committee, said the bill is backed by a "strong majority" of the panel.

However, LePage's energy director, Patrick Woodcock, said Thursday that he's concerned the bill would allow the Public Utilities Commission to add a fee to electricity bills – the so-called system benefits charge – to fund energy conservation measures.

"That is unacceptable," Woodcock said. "The governor believes that increasing fees must be a legislative decision."

The bill would repeal the 0.145 cents-per-kilowatt-hour charge that Mainers now pay on their electricity bills to fund efficiency programs. Instead, the PUC would set a charge based on the number of cost-effective, achievable conservation measures it can identify.


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