I was contacted through your letters to the editor column last week by a local constituent pertaining to LD 1649 - "An Act To Modernize Maine's Solar Power Policy and Encourage Economic Development." It is an interesting subject, solar power, and I will share a few of my thoughts and actions as the bill soon will come before the Maine House and Senate.
All bills have "happy" titles. You never hear a proposed bill entitled: "An Act to Waste the People's Money and Ruin the Maine Economy." You also often see lobbyists come running when government funding (subsidies) is made available. I looked at the public hearing and saw there were 72 "people" who spoke, that is a lot of public testimony for a bill. There were a lot of groups and organizations present who could benefit from the funding, if enacted. There also were Maine people who spoke well and passionately. How can you be a legislator and know every topic and bill presented when 17 committees may be meeting all at once on the same day? Well, you can read the information available but in all honesty, you probably can't keep up with as many as 2,000 bills. (As an aside, last year we received the 700 pages, or so budget with less than a day to read it). In Augusta, some legislators have clear core values, others just follow leadership or the governor. I would like to think my core values factor in first.
I have also developed relationships with people on committees, people I trust to give me balanced and correct information. (People seek me out to learn about happenings in education, my committee). I sought out my contact on the energy committee to hear his thoughts given he was at the hearings. We spoke at length.
From the discussions and research I would point out that solar would seem to be a nice and clean energy option. I would wonder why such a good option has not gained more ground in recent years? Why have entrepreneurs not seized on solar and begun to make money/profits? I learned that it takes a great investment to go to solar energy and at this point in history, not much energy is created from that investment. This high up-front cost and long return on profit maybe why solar has not taken off in terms of big business.
Ultimately, this is an issue that is not black and white (like most bills). Most would agree solar is an interesting and desired option. However, should government subsidize another area of our life? How has this worked in the past, government getting involved in our lives? Is the technology here and ready to go or is it still being developed? If this would create so many jobs and boast economic development in Maine, why hasn't it started yet? The penalties written in to the bill for underachieving are steep. Do Maine citizens/taxpayers understand that? What is the potential in jobs, long-term savings and the environment?
Finally, doing research I learned that solar panels are inefficient at this time, but did you know they are pro ported to be pollutants as well given their construction materials? So, I presented quite a mix here, reasons to vote yes and reasons to be concerned. A last concern being every bill that takes funding would possibly take it away from helping schools, senior citizens and the disabled. Realize, there is a lot of work and much thinking to do on bills. Governing is complicated. With all this information would you take other people’s money and spend it on this technology?
Rep. Mike McClellan
Maine House 66
Parts Raymond, Casco and Poland