State of Maine: Acceptable power sources?

It’s official. Maine’s state bird is a bird. A chickadee for sure, but whether we mean the arboreal or the black-capped chickadee, we just don’t give a hoot. LD 572 has been sent to the dead file. The bird pictured on the Maine license plate is the black-capped, so there is that in its favor. There will be no further ornithological parsing. Attorneys for the arboreal chickadee are considering legal action.

Plenty of other bills are already consigned to the dead file, and more will be coming. For chickadees, it is likely a closed case, but other bills unanimously voted “Ought Not to Pass” may yet have life, if in a different form.

Matters of general interest are likely to be the subject of a number of bills. Those of similar subject matter are usually scheduled for a single public hearing, after which the committee of jurisdiction will decide whether to pursue the matter. If so, it is likely to take the bill with the broadest title and kill all the others, incorporating any tasty elements into the surviving bill. Hence, just because a bill is dead doesn’t mean all the content is lost.

Hancock County legislators are restrained when it comes to lawmaking. Of the bills in print, the nine legislators in our delegation have submitted a total of 52 bills. Rep. Brian Hubbell (Bar Harbor) and Sen. Louie Luchini are tied for the most with 10 bills each; Sarah Pebworth (Blue Hill) has the fewest with just two.

Quantity does not indicate quality. Some legislators (OK, not many) put in dozens of bills, all of them thoughtful. First for all time is former senator (and attorney) Peter Mills, who flooded the market with proposals but could defend the heck out of each and every one with impeccable logic. Others submit bills that have been killed repeatedly, or conflict with other provisions of Maine law, or are mere suggestions that nobody wants to bother to flesh out, including the sponsor.

Then there are the “By Request” bills, a designation that appears right on the front page of the bill. These are bills for which a constituent pleaded, and a reluctant legislator agreed to submit. “By Request” is the kiss of death for a bill.

All of this leads a spectator with a fanciful bent of mind to wish that the Legislature’s website included such information as the number of “By Request” bills and whether any ever passed. The number of “concept drafts” (see previous rants on this subject) that ultimately resulted in legislation. The number of bills that go directly to the dead file. Alas, these numbers are tedious to gather.

One of the biggest debates this year is that of the 145-mile transmission line that Central Maine Power has proposed to deliver electricity from the Canadian border to Massachusetts. Much of the New England Clean Energy Connect would pass through an existing corridor, some of which would need to be widened. About one-third of the route would traverse a section of Maine wilderness.

What’s in it for Maine? Though the power would go to the south, Governor Janet Mills put some muscle into negotiations and ended up with some positives. First would be a reduction in power bills for Mainers. There would be subsidies for low-income residents and for heat pump purchases, and funding for electric cars and charging stations. The incentives amount to $258 million.

To the contrary are the arguments of environmentalists. They claim the project would disrupt the Maine North Woods, and lower electricity costs would negatively affect Maine’s fledgling solar and wind power industries.

The question we face in this debate is what is it that we can accept? If we don’t want fossil fuels to continue to decimate the atmosphere, what do we want? Not windmills. Not dams. Not nuclear power. And now, not participation in this energy transmission that will reportedly provide power for a million homes.

It would have been easy for the Governor to oppose the project. Intuitively, it sounds like we are doing Massachusetts and CMP a big fat favor. Neither one of those entities is high on the average Mainer’s list of preferred charities.

The proposal is much more complicated than that. Agree or not, the Governor took a tough stance after careful fact-finding. “Just say no” has not worked for economic development in Maine. Does this hold some potential? Will the Legislature muster any enthusiasm?

There are bills to delay the project for further study, or to kill it outright. Maine’s Public Utilities Commission weighed these options and came out in favor. Maine’s natural environment lures many visitors to our state. It should not be compromised lightly, but unless we are willing to live off the grid, we should not be too quick to write this proposal off.

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