Mike: Cynthia, to quote every crooner: baby, it’s cold outside. How do we keep the temperature up in our homes while keeping prices down? With talk of Keystone, the sale of Angus’ windmills and electricity price sticker shock, which way is up with energy?
Cynthia: The politics of energy make no sense. For example, the president is blamed when gas prices go up but gets no credit when prices come down. Domestic oil production is the highest it’s been in decades, yet President Barack Obama is portrayed as a hippie in a VW van running on vegetable oil.
And while solar energy is getting cheaper, LePage vetoed a bipartisan bill last session that would help citizens convert to this renewable source. Hey, wait a minute. Was it you who wrote LePage’s veto letter?
Mike: I was in Afghanistan for that veto, so the credit lies elsewhere. And solar is getting cheaper, but the source you cite points out that it is all predicated on generous tax credits. If you subsidize something, it costs less. All it takes is other people’s money!
As for Maine’s energy future, we’re not exactly a hotbed of solar potential; Portland is down to about nine hours of daylight this time of year. But we do have a lot of water, whether in rivers, along the coast, or in the ground, which is why the governor is undertaking a study to evaluate our hydroelectric potential. You know, utilizing our natural resources to create some of the greenest and cheapest power? Sounds like a win-win.
Or we could save the cash, skip the study, and just build Dickey-Lincoln. Think you could get Obama on board?
Cynthia: I’m sure President Obama would be pleased to get a massive hydroelectric project along northern Maine’s scenic and wild St. John River built by executive order.
Seriously, though, I am on board with the governor’s study of our hydro potential, assuming it’s a study that’s reliable and generally accepted to be scientific and not politically motivated. I hope the governor invites the best and the brightest from all across the political spectrum to be involved so there’s buy-in instead of push-back. He’s got to get stakeholders around a table from the very beginning to try and forge a way forward. Simply announcing results of a study he alone commissions won’t work.
Of course, government-sponsored research is just another type of subsidy, like tax credits. It’s using taxpayer dollars — you know, from the people who elected him — to help private business succeed. People who vote are taxpayers. Solar was part of the president’s campaign platform, and it won.
What’s the difference between subsidizing hydropower and subsidizing solar power, anyway?
Mike: First you’re agreeing with the governor’s appointment of Susan Dench, and now you’re agreeing him on hydro? Cynthia, I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but you might be part Republican!
As for the subsidies, I think there is a significant difference in government-sponsored research that benefits an industry writ large, like statewide or national energy potential, and direct subsidies to specific unviable companies, such as those tax credits. The former helps inform both business and government decision-making while the latter socializes the cost of unprofitable ventures. It’s that whole dreaded corporate welfare thing.
So how will this play out in the Maine Legislature? I’m hoping we see Dill-inspired bipartisanship from the Democrats!
Cynthia: My father is a Republican, so I’ve got the gene.
Most legislators are open to accurate studies about resources available to make life better for Maine people. The governor could sponsor a bill, An Act to Study and Inventory Maine’s Hydropower Resources, and vet his idea through a legislative process complete with a public hearing.
Sure, the process is cumbersome and time consuming, but listening to those opposed can help identify trouble spots early. Working with the the committee, the administration and stakeholders might tweak the contours of a study or even expand it, and the cost would be appropriated accordingly.
The last thing we want or can afford is another useless piece of propaganda such as the Alexander Report, which cost a million bucks and eroded the public trust. Right?
Mike: Hey, the governor axed that group when problems became clear. When was the last time the Legislature admitted one of its dozens of annual studies or reports was a waste of time and money created only to save face for some legislator?
The legislative process is valuable to vet concrete ideas and proposals. Using it to create a process to debate potentially convening a group to then study a topic that may or may not result in any tangible ideas that will themselves then go through the same process is the height of bureaucratic inefficiency.
But I must say, I have hope that things will get done this year; it’s still cold outside, but things are heating up. With Democrats electing their former leader as treasurer at the behest of Republicans, there is some new energy in Augusta!
Cynthia: Yes! Things are heating up! The GOP took great pains to drag out the election for speaker of the House on Wednesday, with Minority Leader Ken Fredette accusing Democrats of violating the Constitution for winning a majority of votes. Then, the Republican-led state Senate seated Cathy Manchester in a controversial move pending an investigation, and Gov. LePage joined a lawsuit against the president claiming he overstepped his authority by issuing an executive order to stop the deportation of parents of American children. Maybe Republicans in Augusta will keep things so hot they’ll solve our energy woes on their own!