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LePage says he wants to put a cap on energy costs for industrial users

AUGUSTA — Gov. Paul LePage reiterated his position Thursday that Maine’s energy costs need to be more competitive and said he’s considering drafting legislation that would cap rates for industrial users.

But the governor has not yet submitted a bill and acknowledged that he wasn’t even sure lawmakers would be supportive. He did meet earlier in the day with Republicans on the issue and said his staff has heard from Democrats who want to discuss potential energy legislation.

Speaking from the Cabinet room, LePage repeated many of the same points he’s made over the last several years: that electricity costs in Maine are too high and that they are contributing to businesses leaving and preventing new businesses from coming in. He also criticized the wind and solar industries, which he says are too heavily subsidized.

“Our willingness to spend money to special interests, it’s a political game,” he said.

Wind and solar represent a small fraction of Maine’s energy portfolio.

Maine has the lowest industrial energy costs in New England, at 9.05 cents per kilowatt hour, but LePage said the state is not competing with other New England states. It’s competing with industrial Midwestern states such as Minnesota, Michigan and Wisconsin, which have rates about 7-cent per kilowatt hour.

That’s how he came up with the 7-cent cap for Maine utilities. He said that could be accomplished by limiting the amount utilities charge for transmission and distribution to 4 cents per kilowatt hour, while the supply portion accounts for the rest. He said supply is not the issue.

“The state of a Maine is a net energy exporter,” he said.

Limiting energy companies – in Maine’s case, that’s Central Maine Power and Emera – from charging only 4 cents for transmission and distribution could be accomplished, the governor said, by simply asking them to amortize their costs over a longer period of time – 40 years instead of 20 years.

Asked whether the utility companies would support that, LePage said, “No. Why would they?”

Dylan Voorhees, climate and clean energy director for the Natural Resources Council of Maine, questioned who would end up paying the difference if prices rose but industrial rates were capped at 7 cents. Voorhees also called LePage’s assessment of the reasons for Maine’s higher energy costs “absurd,” pointing out that transmission and distribution costs have risen in recent years as the “supply” costs have fallen.

Energy costs have been a frequent source of frustration for the governor and it’s been an area where he hasn’t had a lot of success in changing that industry.

The 7-cent cap idea, which LePage didn’t appear fully committed to, seems to conflict with his free-market principles. But LePage said the industry is regulated already, so why not try to help the ratepayers. He said he’d be fine if the industry were deregulated but said that would never happen.

Staff Writer Kevin Miller contributed to…

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