Gov. LePage, legislators question grant to green energy group
Gov. Paul LePage said this week that it is “imperative” to find out if the state exercised appropriate oversight of the Maine Green Energy Alliance, which recently surrendered the balance of a $1.1 million contract with Efficiency Maine Trust after it failed to make progress in meeting milestones set by the agency.
After five months of work, the alliance had signed up 50 homes for weatherization on a contract that called for 1,000 homes to be signed up in 12 months. The Hallowell-based MGEA was granted $3 million in federal stimulus funds over 3 years through Efficiency Maine, and entered into a $1.1 million contract for the first year of the project.
The Maine Center for Public Interest Reporting reported last week that former Gov. John Baldacci’s office had pressed state officials at Efficiency Maine to include MGEA in the federal grant to increase the number of Maine homes that are weatherized.
“It’s imperative that we find out if there was appropriate oversight of the Maine Green Energy Alliance,” LePage said in a written statement sent to MCPIR late Tuesday in response to a query. “The actions of members of the MGEA have raised serious questions that need to be answered. The people of Maine deserve to know.”
In a subsequent story, MCPIR detailed how MGEA hired Democratic party activists and donors for its 13-member staff, including three House members, one House candidate, one member of gubernatorial candidate Libby Mitchell’s campaign staff and a former Obama campaign staffer in Maine.
That staffing pattern raised the suspicion of State Sen. Michael D. Thibodeau, R-Winterport, co-chairman of the Legislature’s Joint Standing Committee on Energy, Utilities and Technology. His committee has asked for Efficiency Maine Executive Director Michael Stoddard and board chairman Adam Lee to appear before its members for questioning on Feb. 17, as well as attorney Tom Federle, who founded and led MGEA. All have agreed to appear, according to the committee clerk.
“We want to understand what the hiring process was,” said Thibodeau. “It becomes fairly apparent that it was a large population of people that served in the Legislature and particularly one party.
“It’s statistically impossible that that many people who are either serving or working for the Legislature are working for one organization,” said Thibodeau.
Members of MGEA previously told the MCPIR that their political affiliation had nothing to do with their being hired.
Stoddard, head of Efficiency Maine, said his group welcomes the chance to address questions about oversight.
“The Trust is in complete agreement with Gov. LePage that transparency is the key here,” Stoddard said in an e-mail Wednesday. “The Trust is eager to brief the Legislature next week about the grant that has been closed down and the excellent results of our home energy savings rebate program that has been extended as a result.”
LePage said that questions about MGEA would be adequately dealt with when Efficiency Maine staff and board members and Federle appear before the legislative committee.
“The administration believes this action is not only appropriate but important to delivering transparency to Mainers,” LePage said.
At its monthly meeting on Wednesday in Hallowell, the Efficiency Maine Trust board of directors voted unanimously to end the contract with MGEA. In his presentation to the board, Stoddard said that the money freed up by cutting ties to MGEA would be spent on energy efficiency upgrades.
“We’re going to be able to help hundreds and hundreds; a thousand additional homeowners in Maine will have access to rebates to help them lower their heating costs by as much as $1,000 per year,” said Stoddard.
Both Federle and Seth Murray, MGEA’s executive director, attended Wednesday’s Efficiency Maine board meeting. After the board voted to terminate the contract, Federle said, “My only desire to address you on behalf of the Maine Green Energy Alliance is really just to wish you the best of luck as you go forward.”
Naomi Schalit is executive director and senior reporter of the Maine Center for Public Interest Reporting.