Two weeks ago Governor Paul LePage vetoed LD 1264, “An Act to Improve the Energy Efficiency of Public Buildings and Create Jobs.” This bill would have required energy efficiency, alternative energies and load management systems to be considered during the design phase of new construction or renovations of buildings owned by the State, public schools, universities, counties and towns as well as projects financed with State funds.
Mandatory Design Considerations for New Construction and Renovations
Under this bill, architects and engineers designing new public buildings (or major renovations) would have had to:
- Consider whether renewable energy (wind, solar, geothermal, etc.), load management technology and energy efficiency measures made sense over the life of the building, which is roughly a 30 year period. The consideration of “sensibility” did not include just economics, but public health and environmental factors as well; and
- Set a goal of reducing energy consumption by at least 20% over the level required of commercial buildings in Maine.
So, what is a load management system (LMS), as contemplated by the bill? Typically, a LMS signals to the utility when a building uses the most energy during the day and gears down electrical demand during peak hours. Incorporating a LMS into a building can help avoid dirty, less efficient power plants from running (or new ones from being built), as it allows utilities to better predict power demands.
LD 1264 provided financing options for public schools, the University of Maine System, counties and towns, so they could address renewable energy, load management and/or energy efficiency. Financing for energy efficiency upgrades from the Maine Municipal Bond Bank’s Efficiency Partners Program already exists, but the bill would have extended financing to LMS and renewable energy installations as well.
Rule Making Authority
Under the bill, rule-making authority for the planning of new construction/renovation of ”public” buildings would have been split among various agencies and quasi-governmental entities. With respect to State-owned buildings or projects financed with State funds, the Bureau of General Services working with the Efficiency Maine Trust would have been tasked with making rules governing the consideration of efficiency measures and renewable energies. Additionally, Efficiency Maine would have also been charged with developing a green building standard for energy efficient and sustainable building practices for the construction of State-owned buildings.
Rules governing the design of new and renovated schools, on the other hand, would have been created by the State board, the Department of Administrative and Financial Services, as well as the Public Utilities Commission.
Governor Lepage’s Veto Letter
In a letter to the Legislature of January 5, 2012, Governor LePage argued:
- The bill would have mandated higher building costs; and
- It would have “hurt State accountability” by “the delegation of authority to agencies outside the oversight of elected officials” (i.e. Efficiency Maine).
The Maine Legislature reconsidered LD 1264 on January 10, 2012, but it did not garner the necessary 2/3rds support to override the veto. Thereafter, State Senator Phil Bartlett made a Freedom of Information Act request to examine the documents relied on by Governor LePage in opposition to the bill. In a recent interview, Senator Bartlett contended that either the Governor didn’t understand the bill or didn’t consider the final version of the bill when making his veto.
Does LePage’s Veto Make Fiscal Sense for a Cash-Strapped State?
A key point is that nowhere does this bill require energy efficiency measures to be implemented. As Senator Bartlett argued, the goal of the bill was simply to make designers and architects think ahead and consider the cost savings associated with these new technologies as well as the public’s health and the environment. If the cost of installing solar, for example, outweighed the benefits, solar need not be installed. It’s counter-intuitive that a conservative Governor would find it appalling that people be required to think about how they’re spending the State’s money during the building process, and be prepared to justify why potential cost-saving measures were not implemented.
With regard to the assertion that “rule making authority” would have been delegated to Efficiency Maine, which lies outside the “oversight of elected officials,” that’s just not true. The bill required the Bureau of General Services (who are squarely under the “oversight of elected officials”) to work with Efficiency Maine (the folks who actually know a thing or two about building science). Shirking responsibility was not the goal of the bill, rather it was to require collaboration in implementing standards based in sound building science.