AUGUSTA, Maine — By a broad bipartisan margin, the Maine Senate again unplugged a proposal by Gov. Paul LePage to remove a 100-megawatt cap on hydropower as required in the state’s renewable energy portfolio.

LePage has argued lifting the cap, which benefits renewable energy producers, including small hydro, biomass and some natural gas energy producers, would level the energy playing field and open the door to cheaper sources of renewable energy — mainly from large hydro facilities in Quebec and New Brunswick.

Already exempt from the cap are industrial-scale wind energy facilities, an exception that LePage has said increases the cost of energy for Maine ratepayers.

Lifting the cap could allow the state to negotiate a long-term energy contract for hydropower at a discount rate, according to LePage and those who have supported removing the cap.

But with a 26-9 vote Wednesday, the Senate soundly rejected the measure with lawmakers arguing, among other things, that Canadian hydropower producers have shown little interest in Maine.

Sen. John Cleveland, D-Auburn, Senate chairman of the Legislature’s Energy Committee, said adoption of the bill would place other renewable energy sources in Maine at risk of being priced out of the market.

Cleveland has also said making the change would signal an inconsistent regulatory environment for renewable energy development in Maine.

Canadian energy companies have no motivation to sell their energy to Maine below market value as demand for their renewable energy was already high in southern New England, Cleveland said.

“So the notion that somehow this is going to lower energy prices and make less expensive electricity simply doesn’t exist,” Cleveland told his colleagues Wednesday.

He also noted there were no transmission lines between Maine and Canada that would make the energy even accessible to Maine consumers.

“The need for this may not exist either,” Cleveland said. “You need to remember, of course, even if we remove the 100 megawatt [limit], there is actually no transmission connection between Canada and Maine or — except for a little section in Vermont — to New England. There isn’t a transmission line to bring the electricity here.”

Cleveland said a bill passed last session has fostered an agreement between the governors of the New England states to remedy that, but at present, there is no link.

He also said if Canadian hydro producers want to sell their power in Maine or the U.S., there is no prohibition against them doing so.

“You just simply compete in the marketplace like everyone else does,” Cleveland said.

“If we pass this bill, there could be some severe consequences to both the economy of Maine, the businesses of Maine and the renewable energy policies of Maine,” he added.

LePage has twice before proposed legislation to lift the cap, including during the 125th Legislature, when Republican held the majority, and the proposal was also rejected.

The bill will next move to the House for a vote, but with the Senate rejection of the measure Wednesday, it faces little chance of passing into law.

Scott Thistle

Scott Thistle is the State Politics Editor for the Lewiston Sun Journal. He has covered federal, state and local politics in Maine for nearly two decades.