With the passage of the state budget this week, the Maine legislature put politics ahead of the people in rejecting the Efficiency Maine Trust’s effort to maintain its funding for electrical efficiency programs. The Trust was proposing to increase a charge to electricity ratepayers in order to to sustain its funding levels for electric efficiency over the next three years and replace drained federal stimulus funds.
This was the perfect opportunity for our elected officials to help fulfill their campaign promises to produce growth and economic development in the state. How surprising then, that when presented with a chance to invest in a program that provides at least three dollars of return for every dollar invested, create thousands of jobs in Maine and stimulate commerce, the legislature’s Republican majority and Governor LePage openly rejected it.
Unfortunately, it would appear that the vote was at least in part a product of bias among conservatives against a program that, because it happens to be good for the environment and was widely supported by Democrats, is perceived to have liberal leanings. In reality, the Trust and its programs are just as much about energy cost savings and economic development, goals to which both parties should aspire. The Trust is the public entity that helps to fund projects that enhance the energy efficiency of Maine’s homes, businesses and industries.
The work of the Trust is important for several reasons.:
- The financing provided by the Trust inspires the replacement of outdated technologies, from machinery to light bulbs, in favor of more energy efficient alternatives that reduce overall energy consumption.
- Less energy consumption means lower electrical bills for the recipient, lower energy prices and less frequent costly upgrades to our electrical transmission infrastructure to accommodate increasing demand, savings that are shared by all Mainers.
- The funding provided by the Trust is only a portion of the overall efficiency investment. The Trust’s “seed money” results in significant private investment, borrowing from banks and other forms of financing. In short, the added push of the Trust’s funding for a project results in a commercial ripple effect that benefits many sectors of our economy, providing jobs and demand for products.
- Greater energy efficiency means less electricity needs to be produced, which translates into reduced consumption of fossil fuels and reduced pollution.
But increasing electricity charges can’t be good for Mainers you might suggest. Therein lies the rub. First, the proposed increase was small, approximately one dollar a month for the average household—the cost of a cup of coffee. Second, the economy is not going to rebound while we stand by idly wishing for a miracle, it takes investment to get a return and the Trust is proven to produce returns. In 2010, the EMT saw its $17 million investment in efficiency projects render a lifetime energy savings valued at $95.7 million and serve as the impetus for an additional $76.9 million in private investment in businesses and homes across Maine. Efficiency spending not only saves money– it is an economic driver. Indeed, the Trust funding that the Legislature just denied was predicted to produce an $840 million benefit to Maine energy consumers.
So why would our governor and the legislature effectively defund a program that could generate such significant financial benefits to the state? The answer appears to be party politics that defy logic and economic policy and theory. Perhaps worst of all, it also happens to deviate from state law which requires that Maine, through the Trust, fund and pursue maximum achievable cost-effective levels of energy efficiency.