PORTLAND – After six months of seeing me at work on the Legislature’s Energy, Utilities and Technology Committee, my wife summarized my efforts with one question: “Have you done anything to lower our electric bill?”

This challenge cannot go unanswered, especially when I know her concern is something Maine families and businesses struggle with every day.

Turning the lights on is a simple act — it’s the “why and how” it works that is all too invisible to the average consumer.

While customers want reliable power at a modest price, the hidden reality of deregulation has placed Maine into a regional wholesale market that brokers electricity. The market creates cost and price structures that function largely outside public view.

Lawmakers are working to give consumers a stronger voice in the regional market. But cutting through this Gordian Knot of energy economics means Maine cannot act alone in charting its energy course.

One example of this new energy economy can be witnessed in the current efforts by the governor of Connecticut, whose new budget has placed a tax on power generators within his state.

His “go it alone” tactic will likely have the net effect of raising consumer prices across the New England power market by approximately 1 percent, or $58 million, according to ISO New England.

Going it alone won’t work in Connecticut and it won’t work in Maine.

It is simply fantasy to believe that Maine can create the bulk of its power needs and that regional market demand will not affect our production or prices.

Reducing household electric bills will require a governor and Legislature willing to advance a regional strategic plan. A favorable price climate for Maine and the New England energy market could result if the governor considered initiating an energy trade mission to the provinces of New Brunswick and Labrador.

With the rise of Canadian hydropower, we have a real opportunity to impact New England’s future electricity prices and availability. Maine’s geography stands as a natural gateway for northeastern Canadian hydropower to electricity consumers up and down the East Coast.

Maine leaders should seek to establish an energy compact with these provinces as part of our overall responsibility to more fully develop a diversified state energy portfolio and reduce retail prices for Maine families.

We have seen the results of relying on one energy source in the wake of rising fuel prices or demand spikes. A more diversified energy portfolio will, over time, lower consumer prices. In spite of the suspicion held by Republicans, renewable energy policies are not roadblocks to free market behavior.

Energy diversity is not political grandstanding but good business sense and smart public policy. We’ve seen our alternative energy industry generate hundreds of jobs across the state. A new report from the Brookings Institution found that Maine’s clean energy jobs sector has surpassed U.S. rates over the past few years.

We’ve heard Gov. LePage call our prices “out of whack,” but the solutions he presented this session won’t help lower prices. The committee rejected his bills to undermine alternative energy production because it was bad for businesses in Maine. Businesses from across the state showed up to our committee explaining what a job killer LePage’s plan really was.

The governor’s public vow to reduce retail electricity prices will fail if his administration does not recognize that long-term, tangible price reduction will necessitate disciplined negotiations with political leaders in New England and beyond. It will also require a continued investment in alternative energy sources.

Democrats are committed to realizing a sustainable energy future for Maine. We also understand that tough facts require a real long-term focus and hard work.

Lowering energy prices will take more than a flick of a switch.

– Special to the Telegram