By Rep. Jeff Gifford
As we look ahead to the next legislative session, the rising cost of energy must be a priority issue. Dealing with this problem head on will help both the small business owner and the retired homeowner on a fixed income worried about heating oil costs.
It is time to take a comprehensive approach on energy, one that includes new ideas and also embraces ways of making old ideas work better. We need to pursue what works.
In my capacity as a member of the Maine-Canadian Legislative Advisory Commission, along with Rep. Ken Fredette of Newport and Senator Roger Sherman of Houlton, I am exploring ways of lowering energy costs for Mainers by better utilizing Canadian hydro-power. The Advisory Commission’s job is to increase cooperation between Maine and Canada, especially between the Maine Legislature and governing bodies of Canada, in areas of economic, cultural and educational development.
We cannot continue to use taxpayer and ratepayer dollars to experiment with energy sources that are high-cost and unsustainable without huge subsidies. This energy welfare – that is, energy companies that require subsidies to survive – has got to end. Working with the Canadians helps move us in the right direction. Hydro-power is an alternative source of energy that does not require on-going government subsidies to turn a profit and can provide real relief for Mainers.
According to the Maine Energy Profile, a new document produced at the request of the governor to audit Maine’s energy costs and needs, Maine ranks 11th highest in electricity costs. Since 2000, the average price of electricity has risen 33 percent. Maine’s high energy costs can be attributed, in part, to over regulation and past decisions to subsidize high-cost sources. We are often our own worst enemy, driving up energy costs through burdensome regulatory schemes and incomprehensible bureaucratic mandates.
I love to go fishing, and we need to protect our rivers, but protect them in a way that allows us to harness their energy while also maintaining their recreational value. We have to address regulations such as requiring that 40 percent of all electricity sales come from renewable resources that are receiving subsidies paid by ratepayers. This is one of the highest renewable mandates in the country. Maine leads the nation in renewable generation with over 50 percent from hydro-power, wood and wind as compared to Massachusetts’ 6 percent renewable level. Maine people already pay high enough prices for electricity and energy, so preventing competition by restricting people’s choices has to stop.
In recent meetings with members of the provincial governments of New Brunswick and Quebec, along with national government officials, it is clear there is a Canadian interest in selling hydro-power to Maine and the rest of New England. In conversations with the associate deputy minister for energy and the vice president of business development with Hydro Québec, it is evident we have a mutual desire to see more energy options in Maine.
As part of these conversations, I am working to better understand what the Canadians need to do on their end to bring us more energy choices while also looking at what we can do as Mainers to help get access to cheaper electricity.
The next Legislature should work on streamlining the energy-permitting process so that new companies that want to enter our market can do so without having to wade through layers of bureaucracy. We also need to look at ways to better use our own hydro-electric resources so that we are maximizing our domestic energy potential. An important part of any energy policy has to be expanding access to new energy options to lower prices through increased competition.
That is why hydro is such an important part of our future energy needs. It is a renewable resource that is more efficient than other energy sources.
Entering the 126th Legislature, energy prices will continue to be a top priority for me. I will continue my work on the Maine-Canadian Legislative Advisory Commission to deliver increased energy choice while also working with my colleagues in the Legislature to find ways to maximize Maine’s energy potential. Prosperity is my priority.
State Rep. Jeff Gifford (R-Lincoln), a third-term legislator, serves on the Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry Committee