The $100-Million Solar Scam and Maine Energy Committee Chair’s Shocking Power Trip

1/16/18, Maine First Media Staff Report,

The Colosseum on the Kennebec is still buzzing following an Energy Committee hearing late last week.

The controversy surrounds, one piece of unconstitutional legislation, a committee chair on a power trip and a GOP Gubernatorial Candidate missing in action.

The bill in question is LD 1686, the $100-Million Solar Scam.

Republican Senator Tom Saviello (R-Wilton) is the sponsor of the bill again this session.

Last year the $100-Million Solar Scam passed through the legislature but was vetoed by Gov. Paul LePage, and his veto was sustained.

If passed this session, the bill would provide free services for solar users, by charging non-solar Mainers a higher energy rate. Estimates last year projected the proposal would increase energy bills for Mainers by nearly $100-Million.

And that’s what can get lost in the excitement of last Thursday’s controversial hearing. Maine First Media will get into what made the meeting so contentious. And we will cover why the bill is unconstitutional. However, it is important not to forget the simple fact; it’s a bad bill.

Legislators should be looking for ways to cut energy costs for Mainers. This bill raises energy costs for consumers, again, by about $100-Million!

As Republican Representative Beth O’Connor (R-Berwick) describes it, this bill is about cost shifting, forcing hardworking Mainers to pay for benefits only going to solar customers.

Special Policy Advisor on Energy for Gov. LePage, James LaBrecque, further explains the cost-shifting nature of the bill.

“The bill is designed to charge people who don’t have solar and give that money to people who do have solar,” LaBrecque said.  “It’s a metering method where people with solar collectors will get free use of the electrical transmission and distribution system.”

In other words, it’s a boondoggle for Maine’s green-crony corporatists, like Rep. Seth Berry (D-Bowdoinham).

Rep. Berry is the chairman of Maine’s Energy, Utilities and Technology Committee. And he was presiding over what should have been a routine public hearing Thursday.

However, as the George Hale and Ric Tyler Show on WVOM has chronicled, the meeting was anything by routine. In fact, Republican Representative Heather Sirocki (R-Scarborough) said she’s never seen a public hearing quite like this one.

The meeting started off unusually. Senate President Michael Thibodeau (R-Winterport) allowed the meeting to continue without any Senators present on the joint committee. The move by Sen. Thibodeau — who is one of the RINO members of GOP “leadership” running for Governor in 2018 — set the tone for the meeting and put Rep. Berry firmly in charge.

Sen. Thibodeau says not a single member of the Senate was able to attend the hearing and he only can delay a public hearing for thirty minutes.

Maine First Media finds it troubling not one Senator, elected by Mainers to work on behalf of the people of Maine, was able to attend a hearing about what Leftists claim is an “emergency” bill.

But the controversy grew soon after.

As Sen. Saviello was presenting his bill, he said he was “happy to present this bill again.”

Rep. O’Connor, who serves on the committee, says he used the word “again,” twice, hammering home the point that this is the same bill he presented last year.

Under the join rules lawmakers are supposed to adhere to, it clearly states no legislation shall be brought up in successive sessions. The rule is to prevent a legislator from continuously proposing a failing bill. (Rule 217)

Rep. O’Connor began question Sen. Saviello on this point when controversy number three arose.

Chairman Berry cut off her microphone!

Rep. Sirocki says she saw Rep. Berry reach over to the mic control just as Rep. O’Connor could no longer be heard.

Rep. O’Connor was outraged at Chairman Berry’s act of censorship.

“I was halfway through that question (to Sen. Saviello) when all of a sudden, I couldn’t be heard anymore,” Rep. O’Connor said. “Seth (Rep. Berry) tried to cut me down. He said, ‘I won’t hear any more of that argument.’ I looked, I know he shut off my mic. I know he reached over…and turned off my microphone, thus silencing me.”

Rep. Berry says not only didn’t he turn off Rep. O’Connor’s microphone; he claims he wouldn’t have the ability to, saying each individual microphone has its own on/off switch.

However, Rep. O’Connor explains only two mics can be on at one time. She witnessed Rep. Berry reach over and turn on the microphone intended for one of the absent Senators, effectively shutting off her microphone and silencing her argument.

To make matters worse, Rep. O’Connor believes Chairman Berry used the same trick on multiple occasions during the hearing. She says after the hearing, she was approached by several people who commented on the technical difficulties that only seemed to occur while she was speaking.

While George Hale and Ric Tyler interviewed Rep. O’Connor, they received a message from Rep. Berry on their text line. Rep. Berry attempted to play “gotcha” with Rep. O’Connor.

Chairman Berry noted that Rep. O’Connor is known to be outspoken, which is true. He asked if her microphone was honestly being interrupted, why wouldn’t she have said something about it during the hearing?

Rep. O’Connor answered quickly and simply:

“Because I figured he’d just shut it off again.”

It’s an astute point — how does one complain about being silenced to the person who is doing the silencing?

But the fireworks didn’t stop there.

Five GOP Representatives attended the meeting with designs on testifying against the bill: Rep. Sirocki as mentioned, Rep. Paula Sutton (R-Warren), Rep. Peter Lyford (R-Eddington), Rep. Richard Malaby (R-Hancock) and Rep. Larry Lockman (R-Amherst).

But as Rep. Sirocki explains, much like Rep. O’Connor, they were chopped off at the knees.

“We were told we’d be immediately gaveled down…if we dared to repeat any information or concerns that had been presented previously,” Rep. Sirocki said. “When Rep. Sutton testified, he asked why she didn’t bring up her concerns at the Legislative Council meeting. Well, if you’ve ever been to a Legislative Council meeting, you’re lucky if the sponsor of the bill gets to speak, let alone anyone sitting there with a concern.”

Furthermore, at Legislative Council meetings, bills have no text. Only a short summary and the bill title. Making Legislative Council meetings an ineffective place to address concerns.

To that end, Rep. O’Connor said she reached out to each Legislative Council member addressing her problems with the $100-Million Solar Scam and asking them each to reconsider. However, she received no replies.

The Legislative Council determines which bills move forward to the second session. Bringing us to the first reason this bill is unconstitutional.

As Maine First Media has previously reported, in the second session, there are only four types of bills that can Constitutionally be considered. Budgetary bills, bills held over from the previous session, bills brought by the Governor and emergency bills.

The $100-Million Solar Scan isn’t a budget bill. It wasn’t held over from the previous session, because it was voted on last session. It certainly didn’t come from Gov. LePage, as he vetoed virtually the same bill last year.

So, is this an emergency?

The Legislative Council seems to think so. Every Democrat on the council voted to advance the bill. They were joined by RINO Mike Thibodeau, who appears invested in the passage of this boondoggle bill.

But according to Maine’s Constitution, in order for a piece of legislation to rise to the status of an emergency, it needs to meet this requirement: “…Only such measures as are immediately necessary for the preservation of the public peace, health or safety.”

This is not an emergency bill. So, not only does this proposal drive up energy costs for Mainers, and not only does it violate the rules that govern legislators, but it violates the Constitution.

And in more ways than one.

The Maine Constitution stipulates all revenue bills must originate in the House. But remember, the sponsor of this proposal is a Senator, meaning the bill originated in the Senate. A direct violation of Maine’s Constitution. (Article IV, Part Third, Section 9)

There is an important reason revenue bills should start in the House. House districts are smaller. Representatives are closer to their constituents than Senators.

But Chairman Berry disagrees, calling the notion “preposterous.” According to Rep. Berry, these GOP legislators are “parading” around “crying over spilled milk.”

Rep. O’Connor was offended by the Rep. Berry’s trivialization of the Constitution.

“When I’m defending the Constitution of the United States of America, and the Constitution of the State of Maine, we’re not crying over spilled milk,” Rep. O’Connor argued. “It’s ridiculous; it’s preposterous that he would even say that.”

At the hearing, Chairman Berry gaveled down each Republican who addressed any of these concerns.

Rep. Lockman was batting cleanup in the testimony order. Knowing Chairman Berry wouldn’t allow most of his prepared statement, Rep. Lockman skipped directly to his summary:

“The process by which this bill arrived here reeks of cronyism and corruption,” Rep. Lockman said. “The ten-member Legislative Council is the gate-keeper, and they failed in their duty to abide by the legislative rules, not to mention their sworn duty to uphold the Maine Constitution. If you ever wonder, why so many voters hate politics and hate politicians. If you ever wonder why so many people have stopped voting. If you wonder why large numbers of Maine people look at Augusta as a swamp that needs to be drained; then look no further than the abuse of process that brought LD 1686 before this committee today.”

The $100-Million Solar Scam violates multiple sections of the Maine State Constitution. It violates joint rules meant to govern lawmakers. It appears the Chairman of the Energy Committee and the President of the Senate are pulling out all the stops to guide this legislation into law.

And while the process has been troubling, and the abuse of power displayed by Chairman Berry is disturbing, the emergency problem with this proposal is what it will do to hardworking Mainers.

An energy bill hike of about $100-Million as a kickback to the green-crony corporatism crowd.

But energy expert, James LaBrecque, fears the legislature doesn’t know how to lower energy costs for Mainers.

“The Dept. of Energy in Washington has 92,000 employees, and they all specialize in something. It’s a big, complicated industry. I get very scared when somebody who doesn’t know the difference between a kilowatt and a kilobyte has to make (energy) decisions for us in Augusta.”