AUGUSTA, Maine (AP) — Maine solar power advocates face long odds as they work to persuade enough Republican lawmakers to switch their votes on a high-profile solar bill and override an almost-certain veto by Republican Gov. Paul LePage.
Advocates say they are six votes short in the House and five votes short in the Senate of the two-thirds majority needed to override a veto. The Legislature will vote on April 29 when it reconvenes for a day to decide whether to override vetoes issued by the governor.
LePage has up to 10 days to veto a bill after it gets to his desk. The governor, who often waits until the last day to veto a bill, said in a radio interview that he would not sign the solar bill because ratepayers are being "bamboozled" by solar installers.
The bill, which has overwhelming support from Democrats, would change how solar customers are paid for their surplus power. Utilities, instead of paying retail price, would pay rates set by regulators.
Maine's rooftop solar firms say the bill's failure would jeopardize their industry because the state's current solar policies are expiring. Without legislative action, they say, the LePage-appointed Public Utilities Commission this year could drastically cut the payout homeowners receive for their surplus power.
Fortunat Mueller, a partner with Portland-based ReVision Energy, said his company has put on hold plans to buy a Portland building for a showroom and warehouse. He said the company is now looking at purchasing a building in New Hampshire because lawmakers there have just passed a bipartisan bill that provides the industry with stability.
Vaughan Woodruff, a Pittsfield solar installer, said he hopes lawmakers will change their minds if they take the time to study the bill rather than rely on misinformation distributed by opponents.
"It's not a forgone conclusion that this thing is dead," he said.
Maine Public Advocate Tim Schneider, who was appointed by LePage and represents the interests of ratepayers, said the bill would add 31 cents to the average homeowner's monthly electric bill of about $70 or $80 in the fourth year of the program. After that, he said, the program would create savings, primarily because he expects the cost of other energy sources will increase.
He said the bill would save Maine ratepayers $58 million over 20 years. Individual residential customers would save on average 15 cents per month over 20 years, he said.
Rep. Beth O'Connor, R-Berwick, said the bill would primarily benefit wealthy people who can afford to invest in solar panels. She said it's unfair that everyone else has to pay higher rates to subsidize solar power.
She said Republicans who oppose the bill are "secure" in their positions and she expects some Republicans who voted for the bill will vote to sustain LePage's veto.
"I would bet my bottom dollar the veto will be sustained," she said.