We need solutions that lower energy costs!

Opinion by Rep. Jack Ducharme appeared in the Bangor Daily News November 21, 2023

With the defeat of Pine Tree Power, a plan to apparently lower costs by spending $13 billion to have government bureaucrats run CMP and Versant, it’s time to start looking at the what is driving electricity costs. I could join the choir of clucking hens, or I could offer some solutions to help halt the continual increase in our electricity bills.

The first problem that needs fixed is the directive of the Public Utility Commission. To put it simply, we have set ourselves up for failure. Rather than focusing on affordability, the legislature has put into law arbitrary “climate goals” that govern policies and decision making – increasingly at the cost of Maine ratepayers. I introduced a bill last session that would remove the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions from the basic purpose of the State’s regulatory system. This would allow the PUC to focus on its original statutory directive: to ensure safe, reasonable and adequate service, and to assist in minimizing the cost of energy available to the State’s consumers.

Instead of concentrating on what is best for Mainer’s pocketbooks, the PUC’s main focuses are these politically driven climate goals. Their means of “trying” to reach that goal has been subsidizing solar through policies like net energy billing or forcing Mainers to purchase electric cars and trucks. These policies raise rates, will destroy our roads, and are just not practical for every day Mainer’s. Never mind that they also will not have any impact on global emissions.

Those costs are now being detailed in CMP bills, where they outline $8.12 a month in “non-CMP public policy” charges. These are not CMP charges. They’re not due to rising natural gas costs because of war or lack of investment. They are monthly costs added to Mainers’ electric bills to subsidize expensive solar arrays and purchase above market rate power. Simply put, these are taxes imposed on people’s electricity without them even knowing about it. These taxes have grown, and will continue to grow, as Democrats look to subsidize more Mainers unable to keep up with their bills. As long as enough people have the ability to pay inflated monthly electric costs, they can continue to subsidize the growing number who can’t.

These growing costs to ratepayers have been brought up by the state’s Public Advocate as well, whose responsibility is to represent the interests of Maine utility consumers. The Legislature’s response? Multiple bills from Democrats to silence the public advocate’s office or require that they too base their decisions on climate goals.

Next, the PUC should increase transparency by moving the ball on the actual cost and source of energy by making that information clear on everyone’s electric bill. Electricity suppliers in Maine need to provide fact sheets to educate consumer about their electricity service. Ratepayers already receive a breakdown of a supplier’s power sources and air emissions. This disclosure should also include the cost of electricity from those power sources. I cosponsored a bill to address this very issue, and while the version signed by the governor doesn’t solve the problem – it is a step in the right direction. Rest assured, I will continue to push for transparency in our electricity bills.

The short of it all is this, we must start by directing the department to prioritize lowering energy costs for Maine ratepayers and increase transparency in our electricity bills. If we do not implement these changes, I fear the burden our energy costs will be more than the people of Maine can bear.

Rep. John “Jack” Ducharme, III (R-Madison) is serving his second term representing District 71. He serves as the House Republican Lead on the Appropriations and Financial Affairs Committee.

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