Over the last six years, there have been several bipartisan policy failures — notably, on tax policy, where Republicans and Democrats collaborated to deprive Maine of the revenue it needs to run its basic programs and adequately support schools, colleges and local government.

On energy policy, though, the failures can largely be traced back to one man, Gov. Paul LePage, whose hidebound, backward-looking ideas have left the state far behind the curve, particularly when it comes to economic and business development.

It started early. LePage, notoriously, vetoed the Omnibus Energy Act of 2013, the Legislature’s major achievement in this area, which was overridden, but he then chased off the $120 Statoil million offshore wind project by reneging on an already signed contract. The Hywind project is now being built off the coast of Scotland.

When Statoil made its final investment decision, Scotland Deputy First Minister John Swinney said, “Hywind is a hugely exciting project — in terms of electricity generation and technology innovation — and it’s a real testament to our energy sector expertise and skilled workforce that Statoil chose Scotland for the world’s largest floating wind farm.” It could have been Maine’s.

LePage has been equally short-sighted about land-based wind, where Maine was already the identified leader in the burgeoning Northeast market for renewable energy. His appointees to the Public Utilities Commission also reneged on contracts with two wind developers; while one project finally went ahead, the other was dropped. And LePage appointees at the Department of Environmental Protection have used decidedly thin rationales to veto wind projects, undoubtedly prompting other developers to take their business elsewhere.

And so we come to the current legislative session, where an impressive coalition of builders, designers, conservation organizations and a bipartisan group of legislators produced a bill to make up for lost time in an even more promising renewable energy field: Solar energy.

The plummeting cost of solar installations, and improvement in battery technology, has been so impressive it’s now realistic to plan for “distributed energy” — homeowners and businesses producing their own electricity, becoming nearly self-sufficient. The bill, L.D. 1649, represented a compromise on “net metering,” allowing customers to put energy into the grid while providing reasonable connection fees.

Naturally, LePage is against it, and though at this writing it’s still in the legislative logjam, it appears the governor’s remaining legislative ally, House Minority Leader Ken Fredette, will produce enough votes to sustain a veto.

Meanwhile, there’s another bill LePage supports, L.D. 1676, an utterly misguided attempt to bail out aging biomass plants in northern Maine, throwing $13.4 million from the rainy day fund into the hopper in the hope the plants can restart.

Here’s the reality test: These old, inefficient wood-burning plants were the product of 1980s PUC decisions that provided long-term fixed price contracts, under what turned out to be the mistaken assumption that petroleum prices would remain forever sky-high. The subsequent oil price bust left Central Maine Power and Bangor Hydro with huge “stranded costs,” one factor in their ultimate sale to out-of-state utilities. Since then, the plants have operated only as “peaking power,” when oil prices were high, and, for awhile, as part of Massachusetts and Connecticut renewable portfolios, where there are now better options.

The fate of that bill is also unclear, though it did gain an alarmingly favorable 11-2 vote in committee.

Reject the future and hang onto the fading past; that’s the LePage mantra when it comes to energy. It’s not as if he has ever come up with reasonable alternatives. His constant plaint that everything would be fine if Maine just imported natural gas from New York and Pennsylvania, and hydropower from Quebec, also fails the reality test.

More natural gas isn’t coming here without expensive new pipeline capacity, and even a fellow Republican, Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker, has told LePage it’s not going to happen. As for Quebec, LePage leaves out the fact that we have no adequate transmission lines, which could cost up to $1 billion to build, certainly canceling out LePage’s “cheap power.” His alternatives are utter fantasy, and it’s about time lawmakers started saying so.

Regrettably, the governor’s monkey-wrench tactics are likely to halt state support for new solar development, just as he hamstrung wind energy earlier.

These investments, however, are for the long term. As soon as the Legislature adjourns, it will be time to start planning for next year, with a better bill and a broader range of support across the political spectrum. One man is not going to be able to stand in the way of Maine’s energy future forever.

Douglas Rooks has covered the State House for 31 years. Comment is welcomed at: [email protected]

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