Lawmakers order formal, 'rapid' probe of Maine Green Energy Alliance

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AUGUSTA — The head of the state’s accountability agency promised on Friday to “follow the money” as she investigates a $1.1 million grant that went to a now-defunct energy group.

The Legislature’s bipartisan Government Oversight Committee voted unanimously to not only order the probe by the Office of Program and Government Accountability, but to subject it to the “rapid response process.”

OPEGA Director Beth Ashcroft explained that means the audit on the Maine Green Energy Alliance will go to the head of the line and other projects will take a little longer to complete.

While she was uncertain how long the study would take, she said many documents had already been sent to her by another legislative committee.

She said that she would know within three weeks if she and her staff will need much longer to compete their work.

The initial questions about the grant were raised by the Joint Committee on Energy, Utilities and Technology following news stories by the Maine Center for Public Interest Reporting that revealed the alliance had not met its goals for enlisting households for energy audits.

The center also reported that the alliance had been founded by attorney Tom Federle, one-time counsel to former Gov. John Baldacci, who had helped the alliance get a federal stimulus grant. The reports also revealed the unusual number of Democratic activists, candidates and lawmakers on the alliance staff.

The alliance agreed to return the unspent portion of the grant to the state agency that oversees energy project, the Efficiency Maine Trust.

Following legislative rule, the Energy Committee asked the Oversight Committee to direct OPEGA to conduct the audit of the alliance.

Ashcroft estimated the Alliance had spent about $500,000 of the grant.

OPEGA was asked to determine how the money was spent, whether it was spent legally, and whether all the funds were accounted for properly.

John Christie is senior reporter at the Maine Center for Public Interest Reporting, is a nonpartisan, nonprofit journalism organization based in Hallowell. The center can be reached at mainecenter@gmail.com or online at pinetreewatchdog.com.

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