Thursday, April 8, 2010

These are wild times for those of us involved with the Maine legislature, as they worked well past midnight last night... and didn't quite finish up their session. Everyone returns Monday for the final push. The House passed the $85 million bond package, but the Senate came up several votes short. Sadly, despite advocacy from Efficiency Maine Trust executive director Michael Stoddard and industrial energy consumers, the bonding for energy efficiency spending was stripped out of the package. Moving forward, one of the big issues with the bond package is that if it doesn't pass, dozens of businesses in Aroostook County, the largest county east of the Mississippi, will soon be without rail access, when the Montreal, Maine & Atlantic Railway will abandon 230 miles of track, unless the state can raise the funds to buy it. (The head of the Federal Railroad Administration Joe Szabo is coming to Maine to investigate the issue.) The vote may be based on principles, but it is also largely a partisan issue.

Also in Maine news: a good editorial by my friend Gordon Weil, arguing that Maine's Public Advocate -- the executive office tasked with looking out for the interests of utility ratepayers before the PUC and legislature -- should have more independence from the Governor. Gordon gives a first-hand account of how, in 1981, Governor Brennan created the office, and named Gordon as the first Public Advocate. Gordon also describes how in recent years, the public advocate has served more as an advocate for longer-term policies pushed by the Governor, as opposed to looking out for keeping rates low; indeed, in several contexts recently, organized industrial energy consumers have served as the sole advocates for low rates, in the face of proposals that would significantly increase all ratepayers' expenses.

Did Connecticut set its renewable portfolio standard too high? The energy committee has approved legislation that would halve Connecticut's goal of obtaining 20 percent of its electricity from renewable sources by 2020. Connecticut is nowhere near on track to meet this goal; renewable developers point to a lack of financing as the problem. What can policymakers do to address the capital and credit crunches?

On the federal level, as we move closer to legislation that will promote significantly larger deployment of grid-scale renewables, there is concern about the lack of transmission development -- and federal transmission oversight -- that may be needed to connect generation to load.

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