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Maine Lawmaker Proposes to Withdraw State from RGGI
04/05/2011   Reported By: Susan Sharon

It's a move opposed by the Governor's Office of Energy Independence, industry and environmental groups and Maine businesses that have benefitted from its energy efficiency grants, but a state lawmaker has introduced a bill to have Maine withdraw from the northeast power grid and from the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative commonly known as RGGI. Republican State Sen. Tom Saviello is the only sponsor of the bill that is backed chiefly by opponents of industrial wind and the group known as Americans for Prosperity, which rejects climate change protections.

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Maine Lawmaker Proposes to Withdraw Maine from RGG
Originally Aired: 4/5/2011 5:30 PM
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When the Maine Legislature overwhelmingly approved opting into the nation's first cap-and-trade program in 2007, the goal was to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from the power sector 10 percent by 2018.  Ten northeastern states, from Maine to Maryland, sell emissions allowances at auction and invest the proceeds into energy efficiency projects. 

Over the last two years, about $24 million has gone to large industrial energy consumers to reduce their energy costs. "That's widely recognized to be the win-win for the state of Maine:  reducing pollution and reducing energy costs at the same time," says Dylan Voorhees, the Clean Energy Project Director for the Natural Resources Council of Maine. 

Voorhees says without the RGGI grants, some well-known Maine companies would not have been able to afford to make the investment.

"SAPPI, Twin Rivers Paper in Madawaska, Madison Paper and a dozen more have gotten money from the RGGI fund and it's saving a lot of money," he says.  "Electricity bills are going down.  They are investing in steam recovery units and more efficient boilers, and so it's really providing significant benefits to energy consumers in the state of Maine."

"If the projects were so good, you should be able to get that money and invest it yourself to get the return that's expected there," says Republican Sen. Tom Saviello, who posed that question to the members of the Energy, Utilities and Technology Committee who are considering his bill. 

Saviello says he simply wants to raise some issues around Maine's high cost of electricity.  Saviello says those high costs put the state at a competitive disadvantage for businesses to locate here and he thinks RGGI, the ISO power grid, and long-term energy contracts only add more costs.

"Is the cost worth it?" he asked.  "That's a question you're going to have to ask. And when ask yourself when you go through this bill, who really pays, is it the consumer?"

Opponents of RGGI call it a "cap-and-tax" program, and former Republican state Sen. Carol Weston, who now heads the group Americans for Prosperity Maine, points out that Congress and other states have rejected it. Americans for Prosperity has been involved in that opposition. It opposes regulation of the oil and gas industry, rejects climate change treaties, and is funded, in part, by industry billionaire David Koch.

Weston, who originally voted for RGGI as a member of the Senate, says New Hampshire and New Jersey are now considering opting out of RGGI because of the concern for ratepayers. "I would just leave you with this one question: How long will RGGI stand among these New England states if already the threads are being broken by three states?  And I hope Maine is one of those states," she said.  

Voorhees and other RGGI supporters say it's not clear that New Hampshire and New Jersey will opt out.  They also point out that both those states robbed their RGGI funds to help balance their budgets. 

In addition, if Maine does part ways with RGGI, consumers will still be on the hook, says Peter Shattuck, a carbon market policy analyst with Environment Northeast.

"Maine is going to continue to pay into the RGGI program because it's part of a regional electricity system," Shattuck says.  "The big states in New England--Massachusetts and Connecticut--are the ones that set the price for power in the region and there's no indication that they're going to pull out."

Although RGGI does not directly fund windpower projects,  opponents of wind believe RGGI has helped fuel interest in alternative energy,  which, they say, has helped subsidize the growth of the wind industry.  And they maintain that the fledgling industry cannot stand on its own and does not reduce carbon pollution.

Karen Bessey Pease lives in Lexington Township. "To date there's been no proof that industrial wind facilities are causing a reduction in greenhouse gases.  None.  No proof," she said.
 
But Peter Shattuck of Environment Northeast says calculations by his group and another show RGGI has not only saved $113 million through energy efficiency, but it has reduced fossil fuel imports to the state and generated about 1,400 jobs.  



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