Letter to the editor: Retraction of a thank-you to Rep. Abden Simmons

Posted:  Monday, April 16, 2018 - 9:00am
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On March 28, I wrote to thank Representative Abden Simmons and Senator Dana Dow for their decisions to vote for bill LD 1444 and to vote in support of overriding Governor Paul LePage’s expected veto of that bill.   LD1444 passed the Senate and House with majorities that included members of both parties, and the Senate later voted to override the governor’s veto.  The House failed to override the veto, and LD1444 did not become law.

Senator Dow did as he said he would do.   He voted in favor of the legislation, and he voted to override the governor’s veto.  Representative Simmons, who initially voted in favor of LD 1444, voted against overriding the governor’s veto.  Mr. Simmons’ vote was critical because the override failed by just two votes.

By this letter, I firmly retract my “thanks” to Mr. Simmons for supporting LD1444.  He did not do what he said he would do.

In a letter to his constituents Representative Simmons explained his change of course: “I cannot in good conscience raise the electric rates on people in our area, who are on fixed incomes, and are still struggling to pay their electric bill now.” 

I find this explanation wanting.  By initially voting for the legislation, Mr. Simmons recognized that LD 1444 was not about raising electricity rates on people struggling to pay their electricity bills.  He knew that passage of LD 1444 would prevent implementation of gross metering, a costly and unfair practice.

Gross metering will allow Central Maine Power to measure the total amount of electricity solar arrays produce.  In and of itself, gross metering is not necessarily a bad thing, but purchasing and installing the meters and setting up internal systems and controls to implement gross metering will be expensive.  If the system is then used to charge solar owners for the power they create from their new solar installations and use in their own homes and businesses, it will be unfair.  Charging solar owners for power they create and use, themselves, will be just like charging people for wood they harvest, cut and split on their own property and use to heat their homes.

What I find unsettling was Mr. Simmons’ decision to sustain the governor’s veto—after first voting for the legislation---and then asserting he changed his vote to protect the poor and those on fixed incomes. The claim lacks substance.  Why?  Because by PUC rule, ALL ratepayers, including the poor and those on fixed incomes, will foot the bill for CMP’s implementation of gross metering, and the return on the investment will take years to materialize.

Mr. Simmons’ vote to sustain the veto is also puzzling because, unlike some, he has demonstrated that he does not have an in-principle opposition to solar power.  For example, he sided with his colleagues on the Waldoboro Select Board to approve a power purchase agreement, which called for the installation of a 110 Kw solar array at Waldoboro’s transfer station landfill at no cost to the town.  That array is now operating and is saving ALL poor and fixed income residents of Waldoboro money because it lowers the town’s cost of electrical power. 

So how are we to understand the disconnect between Mr. Simmons’ support of a solar array to benefit Waldoboro taxpayers and his vote to sustain the governor’s veto of LD 1444--after having initially voted in favor of the bill? 

The explanation may be found in the fact that someone or some group was informing legislators, including Mr. Simmons, that (1) solar owners receive 16 cents per kilowatt hour (some said 24 cents) from the utility for the energy they generate and send into the grid and (2) non-solar customers (poor and fixed income among them) are footing the bill for those payments.  The information is patently untrue.  The utility does not write a check to anyone who produces solar power in Maine for energy generated.  Under the current net metering system, CMP gives the solar owner a credit for each kWh of net power the owner produces and sends to the grid, and CMP applies the credit against future consumption from the grid if the solar owner relies on grid power.  It’s basically a barter arrangement.

Solar is here to stay, as the citizens of Waldoboro and many other towns in Maine already know.  After the dust and recriminations surrounding LD1444 settles, the next legislature and a new governor will face the task of developing a rational energy policy, which both recognizes the importance of solar power and ensures that gross metering, if it is actually implemented, will not be misused.  Perhaps the new governor will form an energy task force that will strive to balance the interests of all stakeholders, including those who produce energy, those who transport and deliver energy and those who consume energy.

Hope springs eternal.  I am a firm believer that reasonable people can develop reasonable approaches to solving common problems.  Let’s set some objectives upon which most can agree and move the energy policy discussion forward to a conclusion that ensures Maine will enjoy a future with sustainable, secure and clean energy.

  

Bob Butler lives in Waldoboro