House Republican floor leader Rep. Ken Fredette (R-Newport) today issued a press release setting forth his conditions for support of a fix to the recent PUC ruling cutting millions of dollars from Efficiency Maine programs. It was no April Fool's joke. Presumably, Fredette speaks for most members of his party, and he says he has Governor LePage's support.
The conditions include:
- authorizing the governor to appoint the executive director of Efficiency Maine, subject to a hearing by the legislature's energy committee and confirmation by the state senate;
- transfering $300,000 from Efficiency Maine to the governor's energy office and elevating that office to cabinet level, making its director a commissioner;
- requiring the executive director of Efficiency Maine to report to the new energy commissioner;
- creating a deputy commissioner in the energy office.
Currently, the executive director of Efficiency Maine is hired by the trustees of Efficiency Maine who are selected by the governor. But being a line appointment of the governor would mean answering to the governor and not to a board of trustees.
In most states, agencies similar to Efficiency Maine are operated by electric utilities subject to regulation by a public utilities commission, or are a separate agency overseen by the public utilities commission. Maine's setup appears to be unique and is arguably already more susceptible to political pressure than is the case elsewhere. Fredette's proposal would increase this susceptibility.
In 2009, MABEP and others argued for more independence, not less, for Efficiency Maine. Then Governor Baldacci wanted more control than the legislation granted him, and it is perhaps not surprising to see the incumbent governor asking for the same. Fredette's press release today indicated that his proposals had Governor LePage's support.
Many millions of dollars are at stake. We don't know yet whether Fredette's proposal presents the only route to fixing the problem, but pressure will likely build on Fredette and other Republicans to relent.
Following Fredette's statement to the press, two other Republican legislators held their own press conference. Rep. Larry Dunphy (R-Embden), the senior Republican on the energy committee, and Senator Roger Katz (R-Kennebec) said the legislature should stick by what they enacted in 2013 and fix the problem with a simple bill that does nothing more than insert the missing word "and" into the Omnibus Energy Act.