AUGUSTA, Maine (AP) — Maine residents would again have access to rebates for solar power systems on their homes under a measure endorsed by the state Senate on Thursday, but Republican Gov. Paul LePage continues to fiercely fight any proposal that raises Mainer's utility bills.
The solar bill, which faces final votes in the House and Senate, seeks to re-establish a rebate program that ended last year and would be paid for by adding roughly 60 cents a year to Mainer's electric bills. Someone could get about $2,000 toward a roughly $15,000 solar power system through the rebate program, said Dylan Voorhees, clean energy director for the Natural Resources Council of Maine.
Environmental groups are strongly pushing solar power measures this session, which they view as vital to ensuring a strong industry in Maine. But LePage, who says he opposes the idea of picking "winners and losers" in energy, blamed environmentalists Thursday for policies he says hurt the state's business climate.
"I think that we ... need to understand that energy costs are our salvation and we ought to be all working in the same direction," LePage said at the Energy and Technology Council of Maine's forum.
Supporters of the proposal said that the benefits to Maine's economy and people are clear.
The measure would create jobs and pump $25 million in private investment into the state economy, said Democratic Sen. John Cleveland, of Auburn. In addition, he said the sale of solar equipment would spur half a million in sales tax revenues.
LePage is advocating instead for a proposal to put $1 million a year from timber revenue into a fund for residents who invest in modern heating equipment, like heat pumps and new insulation systems. He's also pushing for New England to expand its natural gas pipeline capacity to lower costs.
LePage has said he can support any form of energy — including wind and solar — if it reduces costs for Mainers. But he said asking people in Maine, who already have some of the highest energy costs in the county, to foot the bill for research and development projects in renewable energy is "appalling."
But Voorhees said LePage's criticism of solar power is misguided and said it can actually help the state's electricity rates by lessening the costly load on the grid in the summer. Meanwhile, if the state doesn't restart its rebate program, it would the only New England state without a solar energy policy, according to NRCM.
"I think we've made a lot of progress on some good energy policies in the state the last year," Voorhees said. "The priority this year is to make some progress on solar because it's an opportunity that's growing and Maine is at risk of falling behind."