The Glocal Realities of Energy in Maine

Emera Incorporated from Halifax, Nova Scotia is my home energy supplier. The other influential energy supplier in our state is Central Maine Power Company, now owned by AVANGRID Inc. This Spanish energy company, recently created by the joint venture of Iberdrola USA and UIL Holdings Corporation, now supplies and provides energy services to 2.7 million customers throughout upstate New York and New England. What more evidence is needed to make the case that the global forces have a direct impact on our local communities. Once a public good backed by federal policy and regulation, energy has incrementally become a private good with exclusionary tendencies regulated by the private sector. Even more concerning is the fact that the energy grid that supplies our communities is now foreign owned, meaning that they pursue the interests of foreign shareholders and not the local consumer. Yet even these foreign actors support the popular solar power initiative currently debated at our legislature.

The challenge to renewable sources of energy is vivid today under LePage’s administration as it was in the late 1970s when the Maine Public Utilities Commission (MPUC) was heavily involved “in the supply decisions of Maine utilities.”[1] As in the past, policy makers opted to support coal, nuclear and hydroelectric solutions over renewable ones, forcing the consumer to a less then favorable cost-benefit outcome.

Those following the current local debates over solar energy are well aware of the obstructionist tone of our Governor. Currently he threatens to veto the 2016 comprehensive solar bill LD 1649 that is supported by solar installers, Maine’s Office of Public Advocate, both foreign owned utility companies, and the public at large.[2] His administration’s argument is that the proposed solar policy “maintains subsidies for homeowners who install solar-electric panels,” hurting other ratepayers that end up subsidizing the systems installed by the wealthy households that can afford the renewable technology.[3] Moreover, they argue that the “’net metering’ system in which utility companies provide a one-to-one credit to solar customers for solar power they generate and feed back into the grid” represents another subsidy for those who have transitioned to solar.[4]

 

Ron Tandberg. Ceylon Today, April 28, 2013.

Ron Tandberg. Ceylon Today, April 28, 2013.

What the LePage’s administration does not tell the public is that the federal and market incentives to transition to solar are available to rich and poor, rural and urban. The net metering policy is designed to incentivize the consumer to transition to solar, offering a policy driven solution to reduce everybody’s monthly household energy bill now under the duopoly of the two foreign energy suppliers. It is evident that if more consumes convert to solar the lower the costs will be, and the less dependent they become on the current system of energy supply.

Society should incrementally transition to renewable sources of energy. I am personally looking into the possibility of transitioning to solar as my costs of energy continue to increase annually. The Governor’s claim that he is protecting the interests of the common ratepayer by opposing the comprehensive solar bill LD 1649 is false. I am one of those constituents that he claims to defend with his veto power but the breakdown of my annual energy bill for the past ten years reflects otherwise:

 

2006 2007 2008 2009 2010 2011
Annual Energy Bill $633.86 $472.63 $710.89 $1,015.68 $1,092.80 $1,062.54
Average $52.82 $39.39 $59.24 84.64 $91.07 $88.55
2012 2013 2014 2015
Annual Energy Bill $1,240.12 $1,152.57 $1,804.99 $2,025.46
Average $103.34 $96.05 $150.42 $168.79

 

An increase of more than 200 percent in my energy costs is alarming and it makes me think if that increase is subsidizing the pockets of the top shareholders of Emera Incorporated and AVANGRID Inc. As a citizen of Maine and as a consumer I am worried that our policy makers continue to paint a different picture than what the data clearly shows and yet some constituents continue to believe in the false rhetoric. The increasing and unregulated tendency of my energy costs now force me to consider renewable alternatives. At this rate it will be more cost efficient to invest in solar technology then to continue playing the game set forth by the current duopoly.

In the 1980s the increasing costs of oil enforced by the policies of OPEC caused energy costs to increase in the United States. States like Maine responded with “demand-side management” policy solutions, including the implementation of the Electric Rate Reform Act of 1987 and the Maine Energy Policy Act (MEPA) of 1988, both geared at reducing oil dependency and helping the low income residential consumer.[5] Local government and the taxpayer invested in large utility projects. This system of accountability was replaced in the early 1990s by federal policies such as the Energy Policy Act of 1992 that set forth the transition toward the privatization and open competition of electric power supply across the nation.[6]

This neoliberal tendency continued to move forward throughout the 1990s and into the present century. It is the reason why the two foreign corporations that currently control our energy supply can push us against the wall. Under this unregulated economic model there are no tools of accountability, the consumer has lost its clout. Proof of this is our Governor’s threatening stance to veto our self-generating energy solutions, impeding citizen’s ability to defend against the forces of globalization in our own back yard.

[1] Carroll R. Lee and Richard C. Hill. “Evolution of Maine’s Electric Utility Industry, 1975-1995.” Maine Policy Review, 4, no. 2 (1995): 20.

[2] Tux Turkel. “LePage Opposes Compromise to Rapidly Expand Solar Power.” Portland Press Herald, March 9, 2016.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Kevin Miller. “Revised Solar Bill Picks Up 10 More Votes in Maine House.” Portland Press Herald, April 14, 2016.

[5] Carroll R. Lee and Richard C. Hill. “Evolution of Maine’s Electric Utility Industry, 1975-1995.” Maine Policy Review, 4, no. 2 (1995): 22.

[6] Ibid., 23.

Stefano Tijerina

About Stefano Tijerina

My name is Stefano Tijerina and this blog’s objective is to connect Maine’s social, environmental, economic, cultural, and political issues to the global system, centering on how the local impacts the global and how the global impacts the local or what is known in Global Studies as the "Glocal" effect. In our present era of globalization it is crucial for the general public to understand how the new dynamics of the international system impact our lives here in Maine and how our local decisions impact the earth.