AUGUSTA — Supporters of an effort to require the use of more renewable resources to generate electricity failed to meet Monday’s deadline to turn in signatures for a November ballot question.

They’ll try for 2013 instead.

Maine Citizens for Clean Energy came close, but not close enough, to the 57,277 signatures needed, said spokesman David Farmer. He said the group did not determine a final tally, but that they knew they needed more of a cushion before they turned them in to the aecretary of state.

“As today’s deadline approached, we concluded that we didn’t have enough of a margin to be confident about qualifying for 2012,” Farmer said in a statement. “One more week likely would have been enough. We’re that close.”

Gov. Paul LePage, who has been an outspoken critic of the effort, declared victory in an afternoon press release.

“It is a great day for Mainers,” he said. “Their failure to gather signatures is an indication that hardworking Mainers are skeptical of this job killing proposal.”

LePage has said the proposal will increase the cost of electricity and drive businesses and residents out of state in search of cheaper rates.

Supporters have acknowledged an initial increase in rates, but say costs will decrease over time and that the requirement to find alternatives could bring more than 11,000 jobs to the state. Also, they say Maine must work to reduce its dependence on foreign oil.

Environment Northeast, a nonprofit organization that promotes clean energy and opposes global warming, estimates residential electric bills would go up by 84 cents a month in 2014 before dropping by $4.40 a month by 2020 and $8.70 a month by 2030.

Farmer said the governor’s comments in recent weeks have had no significant impact on the effort. In the last few weeks, the signatures have been in town offices across the state awaiting local verification. Farmer said they will need to gather more signatures in the coming weeks and that he’s confident people will continue to support the effort.

“People understand that energy efficiency is a good investment, it creates jobs,” he said.

The energy initiative seeks to build on current law, which requires electricity providers to get 10 percent of their energy supply from new renewable resources by 2017. Supporters of the ballot initiative want to increase the renewable resource target to 14% in 2017 and go up gradually until it ends with 20 percent by 2020.

The initiative would also require utilities to invest in energy efficiency if it would reduce the costs to ratepayers.

A new opposition group, a political action committee called Stop Taking Our Paychecks, released a statement critical of the effort.

“That referendum was only going to make bad law worse,” said Chris O’Neil, a former Democratic state lawmaker who now works as a lobbyist. “Now the Legislature and governor can get to work fixing 30 years of flawed electricity policy.”

The PAC registration does not indicate who is behind the opposition, other than O’Neil. O’Neil’s clients this session are Friends of Maine Mountains and Northeast Delta Dental. He also worked last fall for a group opposed to the two casino ballot questions. A phone call to O’Neil was not immediately returned Monday afternoon.

The energy coalition, which includes the Natural Resources Council of Maine, Environment Maine and the Sierra Club, now has until next January to get the 57,277 signatures — 10 percent of the ballots cast in the 2010 gubernatorial election — needed to get on the ballot.

Farmer said they have not yet decided whether to target June or November 2013.

Susan Cover — 620-7015

[email protected]


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