Gov. Paul LePage’s Public Utilities Commission has issued two of its most significant decisions over the last few months. Both dutifully reflected LePage’s incomprehensible energy strategies, favoring out-of-state fossil fuels conglomerates over Mainers trying to build energy independence.

None of it should come as a surprise, since LePage appointed two of the PUC’s three commissioners, including its chairman, and he rarely appoints people who don’t follow orders.

The two decisions share this similarity: both will cost you a lot more money in the long run.

The first decision was to get behind a plan that would force electricity ratepayers to pay for new natural gas pipelines. The other would eventually eliminate support for homeowners and small businesses that install solar panels. Supporting new pipelines will cost ratepayers as much as a billion dollars. Supporting the growth of solar, by comparison, costs peanuts.

LePage loyalists, like House Minority Leader Ken Fredette, R-Newport, hailed the gas line decision. Industry lobbyists also raised their glasses in celebration. And why shouldn’t they? If pipelines are built, the charges will be buried in your electric bill. And while gas is flowing in, your dollars will be flowing out for decades to come.

After studying the issue for two years, the PUC’s professional staff unanimously warned against this vote. New pipelines aren’t needed, they said. Natural gas prices are lower than they were 10 years ago. A new billion-dollar pipeline is already in construction and 60 percent completed. And warming winters are reducing demand.


The PUC wasn’t listening and didn’t care. What they obviously do care about is sustaining Maine’s dependency on fossil fuels that are produced elsewhere and shipped to us here, after a short stop on Wall Street.

As the Conservation Law Foundation put it, “The fossil fuel industry hoodwinked the PUC into gambling $1 billion of Mainer’s hard-earned money on a massive new gas pipeline.”

The PUC chairman explained the commission’s decision by arguing that New England needs more big energy projects to keep the cost of future power down. This is, of course, the same logic that the state has employed for decades. Build more centralized facilities and the cost will be “too cheap to meter.” If that approach had worked, the governor wouldn’t be complaining about high energy costs all the time.

Then the PUC made matters worse. In another decision, they hardened Maine’s opposition to locally grown solar power that delivers, over time, not only lower overall prices but also energy independence and reductions in climate changing pollution.

That vote ignored the conclusions of another two-year study, commissioned by the PUC, that found that solar power is a far better investment for Mainers than pipelines, since it has a better payback and produces lower costs to consumers.

Apparently, the commission believes that when it comes to building tomorrow’s energy sources, it’s better to help the big guys out of state than the little guys here.


This is no small matter. By some estimates, Mainers now send about $5 billion a year to gas and oil conglomerates around the world. If we can begin to produce more energy here, controlled by small producers and homeowners, powering not only homes and businesses, but tomorrow’s electric cars, we can reduce that outflow of money and reinvest the savings in our communities and in building the economy.

But those kinds of decisions don’t help LePage’s buddies in big business. So the PUC followed LePage’s illogic to its absurd and contradictory conclusion. The LePage/PUC view on lowering energy costs can be described this way: if big companies are involved, we should offer the moon, but if smaller producers based in Maine are involved, they should simply be mooned.

LePage has been complaining, this week, that the Legislature hasn’t followed his “lead” on energy. Why should he be surprised? We already have the lowest energy costs in New England. Why should we further underwrite big companies that build pipelines and transmissions lines at our expense?

Here’s an alternative approach. Let’s stop thinking about big new facilities and big energy projects that delivery power from somewhere else. Instead, let’s get behind hundreds of small micro-producers here. Owned by Maine people. Built with their own money, with modest support from ratepayers. In other words, let’s think about shrinking the energy oligarchies and growing an energy republic.

People who talk about corruption and abuse of power in government spend too much time looking in the wrong places. The big fraud and abuse isn’t going to welfare cheats, it’s going out the back door to well-heeled and well-connected companies that are taking Mainers for a ride.

Alan Caron, a Waterville native, is the principle of Caron Communications and the author of “Maine’s Next Economy” (2015) and “Reinventing Maine Government” (2010). He can be reached at:

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