Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Energy in Maine

In Augusta, I attended a breakfast meeting on the energy challenges for Maine businesses hosted by the Maine Development Foundation at which legislators heard presentations from economist  Jonathan Rubin from the Margaret Chase Smith Policy Center, Thomas Welch, chair of the Public Utilities Commission, and facilities engineer John Fitzpatrick from the Jackson Lab.

While future costs of energy and its externailities are uncertain, Maine’s economy is poised to benefit substantially from increasing availability of natural gas which is already decreasing the cost of electricity generation.  Also, as fuel standards increase efficiency, public revenue from fuel taxes will decrease unless tax rates increase.

Maine’s electricity rates are the 8th highest in the US but the lowest in New England.   These electricity rates are the result of regional market forces.  If Maine were to withdraw from the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative’s cap-and-trade program, electricity rates would not decline, but Maine’s producers of renewable energy would lose revenue.

Rate supported efficiency programs such as Efficiency Maine may benefit some users more than others but the overall effect of reduced energy consumption benefits Maine’s economy. Jackson Lab in particular has benefitted from competitive grants from this program.

Increased broadband network can also lower overall energy consumption by reducing and decentralizing transportation.

Maine’s energy future probably lies with diversified fuel sources – biomass, natural gas, wind, tidal, and hydro.  Local heat and power cogeneration facilities make sense for places like Jax.

Clean Elections

A busload of Maine Citizens for Clean Elections from MDI and surrounding area rallied this morning at the state house to lobby legislators in support of public financing of elections and in favor of a constitutional amendment to repeal the supreme court’s decision allowing unlimited campaign contributions from corporations.

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Hardships for Community Hospitals

Over lunch, I had a good conversation over lunch with Art Blank, President of MDI Hospital about the consequences to community hospitals from the reductions proposed in the Governor’s supplemental budget.

Proposed restrictions in services to disabled children

In the afternoon, with several other of my committee members, I joined the Appropriations Committee in listening to an overview from the Department of Education on the Child Development Services in preparation for consideration of the Governor’s proposal to remove eligibility for disabled kindergarten age students to receive services under the CDS program and, apparently, to expand the contracted use of private services for disabled children younger than kindergarten age.

Pressing forward with the Bridge Year

As he mentioned on Friday in Bangor, Commissioner Bowen formally announced the Governor’s commitment to expanding the Bridge Year model allowing high school students to receive community college credits.

Armed teachers?