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Governor, lawmakers have questions about grant to green energy group

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Governor, lawmakers have questions about grant to green energy group

AUGUSTA — Gov. Paul LePage said it is “imperative” to find out if the state exercised appropriate oversight of the Maine Green Energy Alliance, which surrendered the balance of a $1.1 million contract with Efficiency Maine Trust after it failed to meet milestones set by the agency.

After five months of work, the alliance had only signed up 50 homes for weatherization on a contract that called for 1,000 homes to be recruited in 12 months.

The Hallowell-based program was granted $3 million in federal stimulus funds over three years through Efficiency Maine, and signed a $1.1 million contract for its first year.

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 the alliance 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. “The actions of members of the MGEA have raised serious questions that need to be answered. The people of Maine deserve to know.”

The center also detailed how the alliance 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 Efficiency Maine Executive Director Michael Stoddard and board Chairman Adam Lee to appear before its members for questioning on Feb. 17, along with attorney Tom Federle, who founded and led the Maine Green Energy Alliance.

“We want to understand what the hiring process was,” Thibodeau said. “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,” he added.

LePage said that questions about the alliance would be adequately dealt with when Efficiency Maine staff, directors 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 the alliance. In his presentation to the board, Stoddard said that the money freed up by cutting ties to the alliance 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,” Stoddard said.

Both Federle and Seth Murray, the alliance’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 the executive director and senior reporter for the Maine Center for Public Interest Reporting, a nonprofit, nonpartisan journalism organization based in Hallowell. She can be reached at mainecenter@gmail.com or at pinetreewatchdog.org.