There a lot to unpack with the rise in Maine’s electricity rates

Senate Republican Leader-elect Trey Stewart delivers this week’s Republican Radio Address

By Senator Trey Stewart

STATE HOUSE – Hello, this is Senator Trey Stewart of Aroostook County and I wish I had better news in this week’s Republican Radio Address.

If you haven’t heard, the Maine PUC announced yet another increase in electricity prices for 2023. With inflation crushing Maine families at the gas pump and the grocery store, this is harsh news as temperatures begin to drop and the Thanksgiving holiday approaches.

This might feel like Déjà vu, as we were talking about this very same issue a year ago today when the PUC handed down an 86 percent increase in the standard offer price for electricity.

Sen. Trey Stewart – Aroostook

Why do we continue to see these rates rise? Here are my thoughts and some suggested solutions.

The cancellation of the Keystone XL Pipeline permit demonstrates the most basic supply and demand situation. President Biden restricted the amount of oil that we had here in the US, so the folks we buy from overseas were welcome to jack up the price without fear of competition.

In Maine, we’ve only made the problem worse – let me explain. In 2019, Maine passed something called Net Energy Billing. A better name for this program might be the “Falmouth Foreside Solar Panel Discount Act” because the functional result of this law has been to subsidize rich folks in suburban Portland and the gold coast by raising the cost of electricity for all Maine ratepayers.

There is a formula to Net Energy Billing, but this is the brass tax: The Maine Legislature decided to guarantee a rate of return for those who want to generate solar and sell it back to the grid. That rate is roughly four times higher than what Maine pays for electricity from the regulated market. The program’s backers want to “socialize” the cost of moving to solar power because it makes them feel better. The economics of this program are a disaster.

Additionally, Maine voters decided to shut down the CMP Corridor, which would have added the equivalent of two power plants worth of energy to our supply here in New England. I realize that people based their votes on a number of different factors, but the reality is that if we had that extra baseload power coming online, I believe we could project lower electricity costs for Mainers both this winter and beyond.

Liberal energy policies in Maine make it easier for self-serving environmental groups to push programs that favor wind and solar over more competitive power generation alternatives. One such policy is what we call the Renewable Portfolio Standard, which requires buying more expensive renewable energy although cheaper alternatives exist.

I’ll repeat that: Cheaper energy is available for purchase but Maine Democrats have decided that we can all afford to pay more. This behavior is not only unacceptable but also a dereliction of duty to those who have taken an oath to serve the people of Maine.

And before the drumbeat starts with the rhetoric about conservatives who don’t respect the environment, Republicans aren’t against renewable energy sources like solar. We’re against policies that force us to overpay for electricity when cheaper options are readily available.

Over the last decade, Maine Democrats have continually made one-off decisions to purchase electricity at inflated, arbitrary prices because their friends and donors have convinced them that doing so is a moral imperative. This is what happens when we govern by emotion over reason – we get results not supported by data. In other words, we get a big expensive mess and nothing in return.

I’m all in favor of developing a long-term plan to encourage smart renewable sources and prioritize ratepayers to prevent future increases like this one; and I’d be happy to sit down with Governor Mills to offer some constructive ideas from Aroostook County.

Here’s my first suggestion: When we go back to Augusta in a few weeks, we will undoubtedly be presented with an emergency funding package to help Mainers heat their homes this winter. This is the type of thing that both parties can agree on and the reason why social safety nets exist – to ensure government can step in when folks are in real trouble.

While we look for funding sources to assist, let’s also include a tax credit of up to $2,500 for any Maine family that wants to install a wood stove and transition to wood heat, which is currently the cheapest way to heat a home in Maine by any conceivable metric. We have 18 million acres of timberland and plenty of harvesters, so why wouldn’t we support the Maine wood industry while looking to solve this problem. This is by no means a silver bullet solution but we need creative Maine solutions to Maine problems – here’s my first shot at it!

In the meantime, I hope everyone has a Happy Thanksgiving. For you deer hunters out there, best of luck filling your tags over the final week.

This is Senator Trey Stewart signing off from Presque Isle – the Crown of Maine.

Senator Trey Stewart was just elected to his second term representing the Aroostook and Penobscot County communities of District 2 and is the Senate Republican Leader-elect for the upcoming 131st Legislature.

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