By Sen. Matt Harrington
(Editor’s note: This column originally appeared in the Portland Press Herald.)
AUGUSTA – An elderly woman whom I met during the campaign season recognized me as I stood at her door. Before I could even begin my introduction, tears welled up in her eyes. At over 70 years old, she told me she had to ask for heating assistance.
For the first time in her life, she said she could not provide for herself. It obviously shattered her as someone who prided herself as an independent woman, and the stress of just paying for basic necessities was enough to bring her to tears.
I wish I could tell you this is the only story like that from a constituent in my district. Sadly, it’s not; and it shows just how energy costs are crushing Maine families and small businesses in my district and across Maine.
For far too long, the party in power has catered to special interest groups and pursued an energy policy that has proven to be an abject failure. And despite their rhetoric, the war in Ukraine is not solely responsible for the skyrocketing energy costs facing Maine families. Several years of irresponsible energy policy from the White House to the Blaine House has contributed to these burdensome costs.
My appointment to the Energy, Utilities and Technology Committee is a first for me and I have a lot to learn; but one thing I know is that Maine’s people deserve better. I will approach every energy bill with the same question: Does it lower the cost of energy for Maine families?
I sat in an Energy Committee meeting a few weeks ago and listened to a presentation from the Governor’s Energy Office. I was disappointed at the complete lack of emphasis on reducing the cost of electricity for Maine families and small businesses. It was all about renewables.
I agree and believe that we need to focus on incorporating renewable energy into our portfolio – but only when it makes sense. As lawmakers, we must strike a balance between investing in renewable energy and lowering costs for Maine people. Right now, the pendulum has swung too far and lowering costs must be the priority; too many Maine families are struggling to put food on the table, heat their homes and put gas in their vehicles.
Maine Senate Republicans are focused on three priorities that will bring relief to Maine families and job creators.
First, we must prioritize ratepayers. We want to look at any reform of the Public Utilities Commission that will bring transparency to the contracts and the rates they set for Mainers.
Second, we must reform or repeal net-energy billing. I agree with the words of our Public Advocate who told the Bangor Daily News last month “the program disproportionately hurts low-income people who aren’t participating in community solar.”
What he’s saying is people who are struggling to get by should not be subsidizing solar panels on million-dollar mansions along Maine’s coastline. Net-energy billing is driving up costs and it will only accelerate as more projects come online. Instead, we must reform this program to lower costs or eliminate it.
And third, we must stop picking winners and losers when it comes to energy policy. Every technology needs to be on the table, so we should remove the 100-megawatt cap on hydropower that artificially increases rates through the renewable portfolio standards. We must also harness our robust forest products industry and encourage technologies like geothermal when it makes sense.
We cannot continue to push technologies that drive up costs. Maine people cannot afford it. Maine businesses cannot afford it.
Senate Republicans stand ready to come to the table and work to deliver real reform for the people of Maine. High energy costs burden Maine people, Maine businesses and are a drag on our economy. You deserve more than a $450 check – you deserve structural reforms that will lower your energy and heating costs for the long-term.
Senator Matt Harrington is in his first term representing the communities of District 33. He previously served four terms in the Maine House of Representatives before his election to the Senate. He is the Senate Republican Lead for the Legislature’s Energy, Utilities and Technology Committee and the Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee.