Local Food Innovation: A Win for Maine

Nov 25, 2015 by  | Bio |  Leave a Comment

Innovation C.1

Arundel-based farmers and Legal Services Food Hub participants Frinklepod Farm pitch their business idea to the judges.

This past weekend, ten teams competed to win the first ever Maine Farm, Fish, and Food Innovation Challenge. What’s an “Innovation Challenge”? Think Top Chef for startup businesses aimed at expanding the sustainable distribution, processing, marketing, and aggregation of Maine foods.

Thirty-six participants representing 10 teams participated in the weekend event at Bowdoin College. Over the two supercharged days, a diverse group of creative teams workshopped their businesses over and over and over. On day two, each team got five minutes to make their pitch to a panel of expert judges.

This high-energy weekend had three big goals. First, to transform Maine into the sustainable food production engine for New England… and beyond. Second, to incentivize new businesses that bring more value to local farmers and fishermen. And, finally, to craft food business models that open new ways of getting our food from farm and sea to plate, while baking in social and environmental values.

Sounds great! How does CLF fit in?

CLF’s work in helping build a more sustainable and just food system throughout Maine and New England led to our involvement in the weekend event, for which we served on the planning committee. The Innovation Challenge involved a strong collaboration of several individuals and organizations. Long-time Maine entrepreneur Bill Seretta led the planning committee. Tom Settlemire – local legend, Brunswick-Topsham Land Trust board member, and biology and biochemistry professor at Bowdoin – co-chaired. In addition to CLF, representatives from Coastal Enterprises Inc., Drummond & Drummond, Maine Coast Fishermen’s Association, the University of Southern Maine, and Bowdoin College filled out the planning committee.

We also helped the Innovation Challenge teams by providing assistance through our Legal Services Food Hub as they workshopped their ideas. The Hub provides pro bono legal assistance to lower income farmers, food entrepreneurs, and food-related organizations, and offers educational workshops and trainings about legal issues in the food system. Two of the teams that competed in the Challenge are receiving legal assistance through the Hub. Both The Farming Artists and Frinklepod Farm did a fantastic job pitching their farm businesses.

Innovation C.2

Long-time Maine entrepreneur Bill Serretta, who helped plan the Innovation Challenge, addresses the weekend crowd.

Our participation in this event highlights the valuable ripple effect of CLF’s Legal Services Food Hub. The Hub is seeding positive, sustainable growth for individual local farmers and food entrepreneurs, and finding creative ways to leverage this work to benefit our expanding regionally based food system.

Wins for innovation – and local Maine food

So, who won the Innovation Challenge? The judges faced a difficult task in deciding between so many creative ideas, from the company that’s using seaweed to craft completely new products, to the college students who developed an app that helps small farmers track data about their livestock. Before announcing the winners, Senator Angus King congratulated all the teams, and Barton Seaver, chef-extraordinaire and Director of Harvard’s Sustainable Seafood and Health Initiative, gave a thought-provoking presentation about fisheries and our food system.

In the end, the Maine Farm & Sea Cooperative and Forq Food Lab won the day. Both teams will receive $5,000 plus six hours of legal services. The Farm and Sea Cooperative is a broad coalition of Maine producers, fishermen, and citizens. It’s the nation’s first farm-to-institution food service cooperative working to bring control over our food system back to local communities. Forq Food Lab is striving to become Maine’s premier collaborative commercial kitchen for new and existing food businesses. It will provide shared equipment, serve as a business mentor, cater, and distribute its members’ innovative food products.

The New Beet Market and Frinklepod Farm tied for second place and will each receive $1,750 plus eight hours of consulting services.  Two student teams, AgriGatr, from Hampshire College, and the Darling Sea Farm, from the Darling Center, received Honorable Mention.

All ten teams showed great promise. CLF is proud to be helping more and more of these innovative food entrepreneurs grow our sustainable local food system. If these talented food system entrepreneurs succeed, all of us will be winners.

Can a Portland Food Policy Council Help Lead New England’s Food System?

Oct 28, 2015 by  | Bio |  Leave a Comment

Portland's first-ever forums on local food brought together mayoral and city council candidates to talk about food issues in the city.

Portland’s first-ever forums on local food brought together mayoral and city council candidates to talk about food issues in the city.

For the first time in Portland’s history candidates for mayor and city council gathered over the last two nights to discuss all things food. Why? Because food touches everyone. The food system is the path food travels from field to fork and back again into production. It is a cycle that encompasses critical social and environmental issues – from hunger to healthy soils. Over the last decade Portland has become a center for creative and innovative food businesses. So it was particularly timely when candidates who will run the largest city in the state came together to debate vital issues about Portland’s rapidly growing locally based food system. With Portland being an economic driver of new food businesses in Maine, and the state once having been the breadbasket of New England, the question lingering in the air was: Can Portland become a leader in our region’s food system?

Conservation Law Foundation partnered with the University of Maine School of Law to host the forums, along with a diverse group of food businesses and organizations from around the state. Beforehand, CLF circulated a food policy survey to the 11 candidates. The survey served as a springboard for candidates to discuss city government’s role in addressing a wide range of issues: from food insecurity to zoning ordinances; from food production to wild foraging; from underutilized fish species to composting. The audience was treated to true grassroots civic engagement.

The resounding need that rose to the top of the list is for the city to implement a robust Food Policy Council. A Food Policy Council would serve as an advisory body to the city on everything related to the food system. With three legs – government; the private sector; and the community – the Council would provide a venue where all voices are heard and welcomed around the table.

A report just released by Harvard University’s Maine Food Cluster Project underscores the need for just such government collaboration to grow New England’s food system. A quasi-governmental Food Policy Council would leverage Portland’s food economy to become the economic engine for Maine and beyond. By bringing all parts of the food system under one coordinated body, it would also bridge the gap between issues that are often addressed in isolation, such as hunger on the one hand and growing our farm, fish, and food-based businesses on the other.

Fortunately, this effort already has a solid foundation. In 2012, Mayor Michael Brennan, who running for re-election, helped launched the Mayor’s Initiative for a Healthy and Sustainable Food System. The Initiative has brought over $100,000 into Portland to address a variety of food-related issues, set a goal for Portland’s school system to source 50% of its food from local farms, and expanded the city’s community gardens, among many other achievements.

Now is time for the Initiative to evolve into a fully formed Portland Food Policy Council. CLF is facilitating this process by crafting the foundation and structural documents for the Council through an iterative process with stakeholders and the community.

Thanks to the last two nights, candidates have these crucial issues on their radar, including the need for a Food Policy Council that capitalizes on opportunities and addresses challenges in our food economy. By helping to create the Council, CLF is working to ensure that the city prioritizes key farm, fish, and food related issues well into the future and takes a lead role in growing New England’s food system.

Hundreds show to comment on Marine National Monument proposal

Sep 16, 2015 by  | Bio |  Leave a Comment

CLF President Bradley Campbell addresses the crowd at the NOAA Town Hall meeting on Sept. 15, 2015

CLF President Bradley Campbell addresses the crowd at the NOAA Town Hall meeting on Sept. 15, 2015

Last night, more than 400 people attended a meeting at the Marriott in downtown Providence to discuss the possibility of a Marine National Monument in New England. Facilitated by NOAA, the meeting drew people from every corner of New England who are invested in gaining permanent protection for the Cashes Ledge Area and the New England Canyons and Seamounts.

Over the course of three hours, we heard from aquaria, fishermen, conservationists, scientists, faith leaders, business leaders, and concerned citizens. The majority of speakers, including many representing fishing interests, acknowledged the fragility and importance of the places being discussed.

Though most within the fishing industry opposed a Monument designation, many commented about the importance of keeping the Cashes Ledge area closed. The regional fishery management process is not perfect, but it is clear the New England Fishery Management Council recognizes the importance of Cashes Ledge. As one speaker noted, ultimately, we all share the same end goal: To ensure a healthy and sustainable ocean, with healthy habitats and healthy commercial fish populations.

Monument designation about more than fishing

And while there was agreement that these areas are in need of protection, some were opposed to the President using executive authority to designate an area as a Monument, citing it as an overreach of power. However, as another speaker noted, sometimes a place is of such importance that the only way to ensure it’s not lost is through a tool like the Antiquities Act.

Kelp Forest and Cod at Cashes Ledge; 70-miles off the coast of Maine

Photo by Brian Skerry

Cashes Ledge and the coral canyons and seamounts are two such places. And, in the end, commercial fishing isn’t the only human activity threatening their future. We need to safeguard these fragile seascapes from sand and gravel mining, oil digging, and other potentially destructive activities. A Monument designation will build on the existing protections for these invaluable ocean resources by the Fishery Management Council – and make them permanent.

Ultimately, it’s not the fishery management council’s duty or responsibility to preserve the scientifically important biodiversity at Cashes Ledge – nor should it be!

Conservation Law Foundation President Bradley Campbell, who joined the organization just last week, reiterated this point. “Even if the council is doing its job perfectly, it has no mandate to consider natural beauty, no mandate to consider scientific value, and no mandate to protect biodiversity or to protect jobs other than fishing jobs. So there comes a time when there are resources that are so exceptional, they’re outside the stove pipe of any given agency – and that’s what the Antiquities Act is there for.”

Regional Ocean Planning

Concerns about the Regional Ocean Planning process in New England were also brought to the podium, with some saying that a Monument designation undermines the ongoing ocean planning process. However, President Obama has publicly noted that ocean management and the designation of protected areas are concurrent priorities for his legacy. We at CLF are strongly committed to the regional ocean planning process, and are glad to have an Administration that recognizes the importance of both of these priorities.

Still Time to Make Your Voice Heard

Marine Monument protection for the Cashes Ledge Closed Area and the New England Canyons and Seamounts is within reach. Fortunately, NOAA has kept open the timeframe for public comments. Sign our petition here to let the Administration know why you support saving these ocean treasures for generations to come.


Experts Weigh In: Maine Doesn’t Need New Gas Pipelines

Jul 17, 2015 by  | Bio |  Leave a Comment

This week consultants hired by the Maine Public Utilities Commission (PUC) concluded that Maine should not enter into contracts to purchase gas pipeline capacity because the costs of doing so would outweigh the benefits to Mainers.

In many ways, this was a foregone conclusion – one that CLF predicted nearly a year ago and that the PUC itself (unofficially) reached before soliciting proposals from pipeline companies and spending taxpayer dollars on a lengthy consultant’s report. It’s a cautionary tale not just for Maine but for all of New England as the region weighs its energy future – and decides whether it will overinvest in natural gas or blaze a trail based on cleaner, renewable resources.

This process all started back in March 2014. After a cold winter sparked region-wide fears of an imminent shortage of natural gas to power our homes and businesses, Maine’s PUC was tasked with determining whether the state should contract for additional gas capacity under the Maine Energy Cost Reduction Act (MECRA). The PUC approached this work in two phases: first, soliciting and examining evidence and testimony from a variety of interested parties, including CLF, as to the need and economics of gas pipeline capacity procurement. And, second, if the economics made sense, to request proposals from pipeline companies.

CLF testified before the PUC as it gathered the evidence and data it would need to make their determination. We reasoned that Maine should not enter into new contracts with pipeline companies – both because the legal basis for them was suspect (the investment in these new projects would have been paid for by ratepayers, which is unprecedented and risky) and because the costs – to our wallets and our climate – would ultimately outweigh the benefits to consumers.

PUC staff agreed with the economic argument in their own preliminary report, but the Commission nonetheless went ahead and accepted supply proposals from pipeline companies. As required by MECRA, the PUC hired an independent consultant, London Economics International (LEI), to examine these proposals. The consultant’s detailed report compared scenarios in which the state didn’t contract for additional pipeline and ones in which it did (based on the actual proposals the state had received).

LEI’s analysis reinforces both CLF’s testimony and comments and the PUC’s own staff report issued during the first phase of this proceeding: The costs of any contract for Maine to buy natural gas pipeline capacity trumps the benefits. In fact, LEI concluded that, even without Maine entering into a gas contract, gas prices should drop by 25% for Maine customers over the next few years due to already planned, market-based gas capacity expansions. The group also found that electricity prices should drop by 15% due to these lowering gas prices.

The LEI report rightly calls into question whether the PUC should have accepted proposals from gas companies in the first place – a process that has been costly to all participants, expended valuable resources of the PUC, and resulted in no different a conclusion than the PUC’s own staff analysis.

Maine law requires that, for any contracts like these proposed expansions, the benefits must outweigh the costs. The conclusions drawn by the PUC’s expert consultant in their report should prevent Maine from entering into such a contract any time soon.

Ultimately, there’s a larger lesson here – one for every state in the region considering its electricity future. Over this year-long process, the PUC spent hundreds of thousands of (tax-payer) dollars on experts and an intense, litigation-like process, only for their experts to conclude what was readily apparent at the outset – that subsidizing the gas industry on the backs of ratepayers is a bad idea, both economically and for the environment.

Those gas shortage fears that sparked this whole process in the first place ended up being completely unfounded over this past winter. Since then the economics of the energy markets have started to shift, with wholesale electric prices declining by 50% over the past year alone. Meanwhile, energy efficiency is decreasing the need for energy resources, fuel-free renewables are supplanting polluting power plants, and liquefied natural gas has become cost-competitive and available at times of peak need. With at least two new small-scale pipeline projects already set to come on-line and reduce energy costs even more over the next two years, now is the time for the New England states to invest in the stability of the cleanest energy future we can create – one that weans us off of natural gas within the next 35 years.

UPDATE: Take Action: Restore Energy Efficiency Funding in Maine

Jun 23, 2015 by  | Bio |  Leave a Comment

UPDATE: Governor LePage vetoed the revised bill on Tuesday, June 23, but the state legislature voted overwhelmingly to override his veto that same night. “With their override vote, the legislature has served the best interest of all Mainers by restoring funding for energy efficiency,” CLF’s Executive Vice President, Sean Mahoney, said in a statement.

From here, it’s up to the Public Utilities Commission to draft a new rule that will properly fund energy efficiency. Thank you to everyone who contacted their legislators and asked them to stand strong on efficiency in Maine. Your voice made a difference.

My original blog post follows:

Do you like wasting energy? How about paying more for electricity? What about leaving nearly $200 million in energy savings on the table every year because a single “and” was accidentally left out of a law?

Who would say “yes” to any of those questions? Governor Paul LePage.

If Governor LePage gets his way, then Maine will leave more than $200 million in energy savings

If Governor LePage gets his way, then Maine will leave more than $200 million in energy savings on the table.

With one stroke of his veto pen, Governor LePage plans to wipe out $38 million in funding for energy efficiency in Maine by vetoing a bill that simply restores the missing “and” into the law.

Contact your state legislators today. Tell them to stand behind their decision to restore energy efficiency funding. Tell them to override LePage’s veto.

Less energy efficiency funding means losing hundreds of jobs. It means fewer residential homes and commercial businesses in Maine will be able to install energy efficient light bulbs and HVAC equipment. It means fewer energy assessments to help Mainers reduce their electricity bills. It means fewer rebates for solar panel installation. And the list goes on. Energy efficiency fuels our economy. It’s the foundation of a strong energy future. The stakes could not be higher.

Here’s the back story on how energy efficiency funding has come under threat and why it’s so important that you act now:

Efficiency Maine Trust lost $38 million in funding due to an accidental omission of the word “and” when the Maine legislature passed the Omnibus Energy Act in 2013. The legislature has now wisely acted to correct that error and passed LD 1215, an act that restores the missing “and.” The bill to restore energy efficiency funding received nearly unanimous support from the Maine legislature! But Gov. LePage is threatening to veto it.

LePage’s threat to veto is nonsensical. Energy efficiency measures not only benefit the environment and help address climate change, but they also save the state — and all of us — money!

Luckily, the Maine legislature has the power to override Governor LePage’s veto. Tell your legislators to do what’s best for Maine and vote to override LePage’s veto. The veto could come anytime today. The legislature could vote to override it in the next 48 hours. So please act now!

Please contact your Maine legislators immediatelyThis is an opportunity to thank your senator and representative for their initial vote (the lone vote against the bill came from Rep. Ricky Long) and let them know how important it is that they override a veto.

Take action to restore energy efficiency today! 


Farmers and Lawyers: A Match Made in Maine

May 26, 2015 by  | Bio |  Leave a Comment

Noah Fralich moved back home to Maine with one ambition: to open a business on his family’s land in New Gloucester. His fledgling cidery business was just getting off the ground when he hit a snag – the name of his business was already trademarked by someone else. Now, in the midst of trying to grow his business, he was confronting a significant legal issue, with limited means to afford a lawyer to help him solve the problem.

(150415-79)--New Gloucester, ME--April 15, 2015--Norumbega Cidery--Noah Fralich, Norumbega Cidery LLC, a Legal Services Food Hub participant, 402 Woodman Road, New Gloucester, ME 04260, filling and capping 22 ounce bottles one by one.  © George Waldman

Noah Fralich from Norumbega Cidery is just one small food business benefitting from the Legal Services Food Hub. © George Waldman

Noah’s not alone. Like many small businesses, farmers and food entrepreneurs in Maine have a slew of legal needs that, if not addressed properly from the outset, can lead to big problems down the road. Ensuring that our local food producers not only survive but also thrive will strengthen our environment, our communities, and our economy.

Enter CLF’s Legal Services Food Hub.

CLF developed the Legal Services Food Hub to help local farmers and food entrepreneurs like Noah overcome the legal hurdles associated with running a small business. We match eligible farmers, food entrepreneurs, and food-related organizations with skilled attorneys, who provide their assistance pro bono.

The Hub officially launched in Maine on May 18. Noah was among a packed house of 80 guests who joined us for this special event at the Portland law offices of Verrill Dana. Congresswoman Chellie Pingree — a farmer herself — gave the keynote address, telling the group about the importance of local agriculture and supporting food producers through this project.

Ali Tozier, Rep. Chellie Pingree, and Stephen Wagner

Congresswoman Chellie Pingree (center) keynoted the launch. Maine Law students Ali Tozier (left) and Stephen Wagner (right) helped develop our legal guide for attorneys.

The Hub has been running successfully in Massachusetts for a year, where we have served a variety of innovative farmers and food businesses through our extensive network of attorneys. In Maine, our attorney network is growing quickly and already includes the largest firms in the state down to small partnerships and solo practitioners. To help Maine lawyers get a better grasp of the issues that farm and food businesses may confront, CLF collaborated with the University of Maine School of Law to develop a legal guide for attorneys in our network.

From Noah’s cidery to a decades-old organic farm trying to ensure their land remains protected for farming, the people that we’ve helped highlight why such a need for quality legal assistance exists – and the difference that help is already making.

If you are an attorney interested in getting your hands dirty – in the best possible sense – join our expanding network around the state. If you’re a farmer or food entrepreneur who needs help, contact us today.

Together, we can grow our local food system and support the hard-working farmers and food entrepreneurs who make it all possible.

Fishery Management Council Spares Cashes Ledge But Puts Other Ocean Habitat at Risk

Apr 24, 2015 by  | Bio |  2 Comment »

Cashes ledge, a spectacular underwater mountain range in the Gulf of Maine, has for now been spared by the New England Fishery Management Council, which met this week to vote on whether to open this biodiversity hotspot to the most destructive forms of commercial fishing. But, while the Cashes Ledge Closed Area survived the Council vote intact, that fate is not shared by other important ecological areas found within the Gulf of Maine.

Kelp Forest and Cod at Cashes Ledge; 70-miles off the coast of MaineIn addition to maintaining current protections for Cashes Ledge, the Council voted to add a new area of ocean habitat in the Eastern Gulf of Maine. That’s the good news. The bad news, however, adds up to laundry list of poor decision making that puts the health of our ocean, fisheries, and fishing economy at risk, as the Council also voted to:

  • allow damaging trawls to invade an area of the Western Gulf of Maine that has been closed to commercial fishing for more than 20 years,
  • significantly reduce the size and scope of a new protected area in the Downeast Maine area,
  • permit surf clam dredges, the most damaging fishing gear, in a newly created Great South Channel “protected area,”
  • allow gear modification techniques to serve as habitat “protection” measures, even though those techniques have been panned by the Council’s own technical experts.

The Council also entertained a new proposal put forward by the scallop industry for a protected area for Georges Bank that will – unsurprisingly – permit scallop and clam dredging in a protected area that has been closed for more than 20 years.

CLF has been at the forefront of fighting to keep Cashes Ledge and other protected ocean habitat closed to most commercial fishing practices in order to restore depleted groundfish stocks, including the Atlantic cod population, which is currently at historic lows. During a 60-day comment period, CLF and other environmental organizations collected close to 160,000 comments from the public calling on the Council to keep Cashes Ledge closed to commercial fishing and to increase protected areas across New England waters.

While the initial outcome for Cashes is positive, the Council continues to play a dangerous shell game with our precious ocean resources, ignoring its own scientists’ advice and elevating minimal short-term gains for industry over long-term benefits for the resource (and, ultimately, the fishing community). The current vote is yet another example of one step forward and two steps back for the Council, as it once again spurned the kind of long-term protection and sustainability for New England’s precious marine resources that could lead to economic prosperity for our fishing community.

Fishery management councils across the United States have successfully balanced the protection of ocean habitat with the economic interests of our fishing communities. New England’s fishery council should be the nation’s leader in that effort, but instead they have a long history of making bad management decisions that are depleting our fish stocks and bankrupting our fishing industry.

Our oceans belong to the people and we cannot allow an industry-driven Council to take hostage of vital marine resources decisions. Of the nearly 160,000 people who weighed in on this issue, an overwhelming 96% of them want an increase in protected areas, not a decrease.

If you were among those thousands who weighed in, thank you. Your voice has and can make a difference in this fight. The reality is, even though Cashes has received a reprieve for now, the final vote on the Council’s risky proposal isn’t until June. CLF will continue to ensure that your voice is heard and work to turn back the tide on a legacy of poor management by the New England Fishery Management Council.

A Single Word Could Restore Maine Energy Efficiency Funding

Apr 8, 2015 by  | Bio |  Leave a Comment

A recent decision by the Maine Public Utilities Commission (PUC) severely limits energy efficiency funding in the state. If the decision stands, Efficiency Maine Trust – the public entity that runs energy efficiency programs – would see its near-term budget cut from about $60 million to $22 million. This drastic cut in energy efficiency funding would essentially eliminate the cornerstone of sound energy policy in Maine. Fixing this mistake is vital to the state’s energy future.

The fix is easy (the entire fiasco boils down to the single word “and”), but the backstory is more complicated.

The Backstory

Energy efficiency works 

shutterstock_129267746 lightbulbThe more energy consumers use, the more energy must be generated. Whether that energy comes from coal, natural gas, or renewable sources, the cost to generate that energy goes beyond the dollar figure on your utility bills. Part of that cost is sunk into the generation facilities themselves, and part is in the poles and wires needed to bring that energy into our homes and businesses.

Energy efficiency has the power to reduce the overall demand for electricity by encouraging technological advancements that produce the same service while using less energy. Less overall energy use means less transmission and distribution build out, less energy generation, and, ultimately, a lower energy bill for consumers.

Energy efficiency saves ratepayers money, improves the environment, stimulates commerce, and creates jobs. Since 2011, Efficiency Maine has saved ratepayers almost $1 billion in lifetime energy savings while creating thousands of jobs. Over their lifetime, the projects Efficiency Maine helped install in 2014 alone will save more than 1 billion kilowatt hours of energy consumption – the equivalent of more than 22 million gallons of oil. This translates to nearly $200 million in ratepayer savings. Every dollar Efficiency Maine invests provides at least three dollars in return.

All this raises a pressing question: Why would the PUC slash funding for energy efficiency?

How we got here

In 2013, the Maine Legislature passed the bipartisan Omnibus Energy Act. One piece of this legislation mandates that Maine, through Efficiency Maine, fund and pursue all maximum achievable cost-effective energy efficiency.

Let’s be clear – that is the law.

A single phrase of this voluminous statute determines how much annual funding Efficiency Maine receives to meet (or not) the law’s mandate. This funding, which is included in electricity rates, is capped at “4% of total retail electricity transmission and distribution sales in the State.”

The current fiasco all boils down to what “total retail electricity transmission and distribution sales” actually means. If you find that phrase confusing, you’re not alone. For those working in the electric industry, “retail electricity” sales mean sales of electricity generation. And “transmission and distribution” sales mean sales of the transmission and distribution of electricity. But mashing them together creates a phrase not used anywhere in Maine law, or in any other law in the country.

The problem stems from a missing “and.” The phrase as originally drafted by the legislature was: “total retail electricity and transmission and distribution sales.” That phrase means something. So what happened to the “and”? No one knows. But somewhere along the line, without any discussion, debate, or request, it disappeared from the final version of the bill – after a legislative committee approved a version containing this critical conjunction.

A matter of interpretation?

So, what does the PUC have to do with this? The 2013 Omnibus Energy Act directs the PUC to make a rule that interprets this phrase and thus the amount of energy efficiency funding. In making this rule, the PUC must follow what the legislature intended when it wrote the law. If what the law says is clear, the PUC need look no further than the text. But if the law is not clear, the PUC looks to the bill’s legislative history to determine what the legislature intended the law to mean.

As it turns out, the only people who have found that confusing phrase absolutely clear are two out of three PUC Commissioners. They read the language to include sales from only transmitting and distributing electricity, not sales from generating the electricity. That reading translates to a huge difference in how much money goes toward Maine’s energy efficiency initiatives – a $38 million difference.

Even as written – in other words without the “and” – the PUC got this wrong. The only thing that’s clear about the phrase is how unclear it is. That means the PUC must look to the legislative history to see what the legislature intended. And no one – not even the legislators who drafted the bill – disputes that the legislature intended much greater funding for energy efficiency by including sales from both electricity generation and electricity transmission and distribution.

The Future

Frustrated yet? There’s more.

The Maine Legislature now has the opportunity to fix the PUC’s decision. Doing so would save Maine ratepayer dollars. Unfortunately, as the Portland Press Herald reported recently, prospects for an easy legislative fix look dim.

Remember, the 2013 Omnibus Energy Act, which mandates energy efficiency measures, passed with bipartisan support. Legislators have introduced an amendment to the Energy Act that simply reinserts the word “and” – as the legislature originally intended.

But other lawmakers are trying to block this version. In an op-ed in the Portland Press Herald, House Minority Leader Kenneth Fredette (R-Newport) admitted that the Energy Act was intended to increase the funding cap to “roughly $60 million” instead of the roughly $22 million under the PUC’s interpretation. Nonetheless, he claims that the PUC correctly interpreted the law it was given, mistake and all.

What Representative Fredette and other lawmakers are now arguing is this:

  1. Yes, the Energy Act meant to increase energy efficiency funding.
  2. Yes, the PUC interpreted it to severely limit this funding.
  3. Yes, we the legislature should fix this.
  4. But NO, we are not going to simply insert a single word in order to do what a bipartisan legislature intended in the first place when it passed the law.


Why not? Governor Paul LePage. He is almost guaranteed to veto a fix of the bill because he does not want to invest more in energy efficiency. The legislature might not garner the two-thirds vote needed to override that veto, let alone pass the amended version in the first place.

What’s the alternative? A bill that compromises further on sound energy policy in Maine. To be clear, the original Omnibus Energy Act was itself the result of bipartisan compromise – which was meant to vastly increase energy efficiency funding. Now, because of one word, the governor and Republican legislators want another bite at the apple.

Tell your legislators to pass the clean fix of the bill and restore Maine energy efficiency funding! You can find your legislator’s contact information here. Help restore adequate funding for energy efficiency in Maine!

Smart Moves for Maine’s Electricity Grid

Mar 10, 2015 by  | Bio |  2 Comment »

Several years ago, Maine took a small but significant and unprecedented step toward modernizing its electric grid. Rather than implement a traditional “poles and wires” transmission build out to address growing electricity needs in the Boothbay Harbor region, the Maine Public Utilities Commission (PUC) approved an innovative pilot project.

GridSolar's Boothbay Pilot program is finding innovative ways to meet electricity demand without an expensive transmission rebuild.

GridSolar’s Boothbay Pilot program is finding innovative ways to meet electricity demand without an expensive transmission rebuild.

The Boothbay Pilot relies on so-called non-transmission alternatives, or NTAs, to reduce electric load in the region by 2 megawatts (MW). Using these alternatives eliminated the need for an $18 million transmission rebuild, while also improving energy efficiency, reducing greenhouse gas emissions, and saving ratepayers approximately $3 million per year. A smart move. Now, the PUC has the opportunity to take many of the pilot’s concepts statewide.

Non-transmission alternatives are, as the name implies, alternatives to the traditional way of distributing electricity. For most of Maine’s power grid, state-regulated transmission and distribution utilities, such as Central Maine Power, transmit bulk electricity from a generation source – for example, natural gas, oil, or hydro – through power lines, substations, and distribution lines to your home. To ensure reliable and constant energy flow the power grid must be continually maintained and at times rebuilt or upgraded to meet demand.

Instead of expending ratepayer dollars on expensive transmission solutions, electric power needs can be met by various NTAs, including energy efficiency, passive electric power generation closer to the consumer (like solar panels or wind turbines), and active devices that can be switched on when needed to reduce load on the grid. These alternatives create a more efficient grid and reduce total power needed.

For the Boothbay regional Pilot program, GridSolar developed just such an NTA solution. In a case before the PUC, GridSolar has petitioned to become the state’s lead developer of smart grid technologies – a new entity allowed under the Maine Smart Grid Policy Act. While PUC staff recently recommended that the Commissioners deny GridSolar’s petition – in favor of putting the coordinator’s role out to bid for proposals – their report nonetheless recognizes the value in having an incentivized actor forwarding non-transmission alternatives to utilities’ business-as-usual transmission projects.

CLF is an intervening party to this case and has advocated for the PUC to create just such a statewide NTA Coordinator. Designating this role is another small but critical step toward a more efficient and modern energy future for Maine. Another smart move on which we should all agree.

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