Law blocks northern Maine businesses from energy cost aid

MAINE — Aroostook and Washington counties will see no money from a new $3 million program to reduce power rates for “energy intensive” manufacturers, after regulators ruled the program only includes parts of the state that pay a premium on electricity to help reduce carbon emissions.

Maine regulators recently issued an order finding the program created by the last Legislature would remain limited to the regional ISO-New England grid, despite a bid from McCain Foods for businesses connected to the northern Maine electric grid to have access to the funds.

“Given that the intent of the act is to reduce electricity rates for Maine businesses that suffer from high energy costs, there is no reason why McCain, and other good northern Maine manufacturing businesses who create good Maine jobs, should be shut out in the cold from financial relief just because they happen to be located in Aroostook County rather than Cumberland or York County,” Sarah Tracy, an attorney for McCain, wrote in comments to regulators in May.

Patrick Woodcock, head of the Governor’s Energy Office and a board member of the Efficiency Maine Trust, wrote in an email that the decision “is a difficult policy call,” noting that portions of proceeds from a regional cap-and-trade auction do make their way to northern Maine through other programs.

“At Efficiency Maine Trust, we do disburse funds that are generated by the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative to customers in northern Maine although the customers are not effectively subject to the cap-and-trade costs,” Woodcock said.

The Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative has power generators in nine states bid on carbon emissions credits, with proceeds distributed back to states mostly to help pay for energy efficiency programs. The cost paid by generators is reflected in customers’ power bills.

In their order, regulators wrote that the language of the law is clear, with the proceeds intended to help reduce the premium energy-intensive manufacturers pay related to the cap-and-trade system.

“An entity’s location in ISO New England is a requirement and cannot be waived,” the commission’s order states.

The vast majority of customers connected to the ISO-New England grid are part of Emera Maine’s Bangor Hydro Electric district and Central Maine Power Co.’s service area.

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