PORTLAND, Maine (AP) — Republicans in Maine said Tuesday they will propose a host of legal changes to try to cap the surging cost of home heating in the state.
Maine is heavily dependent on heating oil, and the cost of that has doubled over the past two years, Republican members of the state Senate said. All told, electricity rates have increased 165% in recent years, the senators said.
The senators said they will propose reforms to the Maine Public Utilities Commission as well as a number of acts to try to expand options for home energy creation. The announcement came about three weeks after the Maine Legislature signed off on $450 relief checks to help residents with winter heating costs.
Republicans said Tuesday that the relief checks, proposed by Democratic Gov. Janet Mills, don't address the structural changes the state needs in how it approaches home heating.
“Skyrocketing energy costs are crushing Maine families and small businesses,” said Sen. Matt Harrington. “Maine people deserve more than a $450 check.”
One of the Republican proposals would promise more transparency and accountability during the bidding process used by the public utilities commission. Another would remove a 100-megawatt limit on hydropower, Harrington said.
Republicans are also planning bills to promote use of geothermal exchange heating and cooling systems, and to allow a variance for outdoor wood boilers. Members of the party said those moves would open up new options for residents.
The GOP also wants to reform the way Maine uses net metering, which is a financial incentive used to encourage solar power. Republicans in the state have often characterized the program as inequitable.
Democrats control both houses of the Maine Legislature as well as the governor’s office, which puts Republican legislation at a disadvantage. However, both parties agree the state needs solutions to bring down the cost of home energy.
Gov. Mills favors a multi-step approach to lowering energy costs that includes diversifying Maine's energy sources, weatherizing more homes and businesses and installing more efficient heating and cooling technology systems, said Anthony Ronzio, a spokesperson for the Governor’s Energy Office.
“It is important to note that Maine’s high energy prices are driven by the volatility of global energy markets and made worse by Maine’s overreliance on fossil fuels,” he said.