PORTLAND — A ballot initiative for renewable energy that supporters say can gradually lower electricity rates while reducing Maine’s dependence on imported fuel is actually “the single, largest job killer” Maine has faced in years and will make rates rise, Gov. Paul LePage told a gathering of the state’s real estate industry Thursday.

If the measure gets on the ballot in November and wins voters’ approval, he said, it will force people and businesses to leave for places that have lower energy costs.

“This will destroy the state of Maine,” he said, appealing to the crowd to fight the initiative.

LePage gave the opening address of the Maine Real Estate & Development Association’s annual forecast conference. A record turnout of 650 business and industry professionals gave the governor a standing ovation when he was introduced at the Holiday Inn by the Bay.

LePage’s comments escalated his attack on a proposal by a coalition called Maine Citizens for Clean Energy. The group, which includes environmental activists and wind power developers, is collecting signatures for a ballot initiative aimed at requiring 20 percent of Maine’s electricity to come from renewable sources by 2020, and to require further investments in energy efficiency.

LePage has called the proposal a scam that benefits a few wealthy people. He told the group that the plan would add $40 million to $80 million a year to Maine’s electricity costs, which he said already are the 12th highest in the nation.

“It’s a loss for the state of Maine, and I urge you all to fight it,” he said.

Advocates of the initiative said after his remarks that the governor is misinformed.

They cited a draft report released last week by the Public Utilities Commission and done at the request of the Legislature. That independent study shows Maine’s renewable-energy policies, coupled with similar power-purchase requirements elsewhere in New England, could create 11,700 jobs in Maine, building wind and other renewable-energy projects. The work also could increase the state’s gross domestic product by 2 percent, more than $1 billion, according to London Economic International LLC of Boston.

“I’m puzzled why he thinks this is a job killer,” said Beth Nagusky, Maine director of Environment Northeast. “This is a job creator.”

During his talk, LePage held up the state’s electricity rates as a threat to business retention and expansion. He quoted higher rates that Tambrands, a manufacturer in Auburn owned by Procter & Gamble, pays compared with other company plants that compete for capital.

He said energy costs are one reason AdvancePierre Foods, which bought the Barber Foods factory in Portland last year and consolidated the operation, moved some production to Oklahoma.

LePage didn’t mention that electricity costs are falling for Maine businesses and industry, because of low natural-gas prices. The PUC announced Wednesday that the standard offer rate for medium commercial customers served by Central Maine Power Co. will drop 23 percent in March.

The governor also contended that if the ballot initiative is successful, state government will lose control of its ability to regulate electricity rates. He said that task would shift to the Efficiency Maine Trust, the quasi-state agency that oversees conservation and efficiency.

That statement was refuted by Michael Stoddard, Efficiency’s Maine’s executive director. He said he has read the ballot proposal, and nothing indicates that his agency would have any change in its powers or duties.

“Someone on the governor’s staff needs to fact-check that,” he said.

In response to a question about how to lower Maine’s electricity costs, LePage noted the state’s effort to encourage natural-gas pipeline development, and the promise of wood pellets and off-peak, electric storage heat. He also took a shot at conservation efforts, which he said “come at a price.”

Pointing to the incandescent chandeliers in the Holiday Inn by the Bay, LePage said the lightbulbs give off heat, and if they were replaced by energy-efficient lighting it would take more oil to warm the space.

That notion also was disputed by Stoddard, who noted that lighting and cooling — not heat — are the largest expenses in most commercial buildings.

Using money from electricity bills, Efficiency Maine has been helping to subsidize the price of compact fluorescent bulbs. Mainers bought 1.5 million of the bulbs last year, and Stoddard said they remain the state’s best source of energy savings.

“If people want to heat their buildings with lights, they are free to do so,” he said. “It’s just the most expensive way to heat.”

 


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