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Plan to use state timber money for energy rebates under attack

AUGUSTA (WGME) -- It's one of Maine's largest natural resources. Trees. And Governor Paul LePage wants to use Maine's trees to lower your energy costs. The governor wants to increase commercial logging on state-owned public land, and use the additional money to help people convert to more efficient home heating systems.

Governor LePage says an affordable heat pump is the key to the state's energy future. He says solar power is still too expensive for many Maine families. It's why he wants to use what would amount to a million dollars of additional, annual state logging money to give Mainers rebates for switching to an energy efficient heating system.

Governor LePage says "Right now, Maine people are freezing. And we're doing nothing about it." But Dylan Voorhees, with the Natural resources Council of Maine, argues solar, wind and other clean, renewable sources of energy is what's best for Maine. He says it's the peak load in the summer that is what's driving Maine's high electricity rates.

Voorhees says what Maine really needs are rebates for clean, renewable energy sources. He says there is no rebate in Maine for homeowners who want to switch to solar. He says "Maine is the only state in New England where that's true. All of the state's around us are taking advantage of the fact that solar has become so much more affordable than it was just five years ago."

But Patrick Woodcock, the governor's energy office director, argues "Solar is not the most cost effective resource. As a result, the governor will veto any bill that increases fees on Mainers to pick that one solution." He says "The question is what is the bigger priority right now for the state of Maine when we have a heating crisis before us."

Senate democratic leader Troy Jackson says he would support putting more money into energy rebates for Mainers.  But he and the Natural Resources Council of Maine are concerned that the governor is planning to cut our forests faster than they can grow back. Voorhees says "We're very concerned about proposals to ramp up dramatically the cutting on our public lands."

Senator Jackson says "We can increase the cut, and that would be something I would support. But certainly not to the level that he would like to see it done." He says the governor's bill is similar to a bill he introduced. But he says the problem is what the governor wants to do is unconstitutional, because state logging revenues must go to conservation programs.

That bill the governor introduced never made it out of the Senate. And Governor LePage blames Senate President Justin Alfond and the Natural Resources Council of Maine for that. He says "This bill died because the Natural Resource Council of Maine decided they didn't want revenues to go to help Maine people. They wanted it to go buy land. And I find that scandalous."

Senator Jackson says "The fact is it's unconstitutional and you can't do it.  And so we'd have to figure out another way to put more money in Efficiency Trust to make sure that people have those opportunities." But the LePage administration says the law can be changed. The governor plans to introduce emergency legislation this week to push for those rebates for Maine families.