- Associated Press - Wednesday, April 16, 2014

AUGUSTA, Maine (AP) - The Maine Senate failed to muster enough support Wednesday to revive a bill that would have restored a program that provides rebates for residents and businesses who install solar panels.

Despite strong support in the Democratic-led House earlier this week, the effort to overturn Republican Gov. Paul LePage’s veto fell two votes short of the two-thirds majority support it needed in the Senate, killing the bill as lawmakers make their way through the final days of the legislative session.

The measure drew sharp criticism from LePage and GOP lawmakers because it would have been paid for by raising Mainers’ electric bills roughly 60 cents a year. But environmentalists, who often clash with the governor and lobbied heavily for the bill this session, said the veto of the bill “represents the failure of his irrational anti-clean-energy and anti-business agenda.”

“Maine needs a governor who will lead the state into a cleaner, more prosperous energy future,” Glen Brand, director of the Sierra Club Maine Chapter said in a statement.

Supporters of the measure, which would have provided $1 million for the program until 2016, said it was essential to build a strong solar industry in the state and that it would bring hundreds of new jobs to Maine.

The proposal was amended by Republicans in an effort to gain more GOP votes to also allow the funds to be used to help low-income residents buy heat pumps, which can significantly reduce heating costs.

But some Republicans said Wednesday that Maine’s electric rates are already among the highest in the country and that even a small raise will hurt some residents. If it’s good policy, the state should find a way to pay for it without increasing rates, they said.

“We can’t overlook the fact that we are taking $1 million out of the pockets of the aged, the poor, the people that pennies really make a difference to in this state,” said Republican Sen. Edward Youngblood of Brewer.

The bill is among dozens lawmakers are pushing through on Wednesday as they near the end of their short legislative session. They were planning to adjourn Wednesday, but were expected to remain in session possibly until Friday.

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Follow Alanna Durkin on Twitter at https://www.twitter.com/aedurkin

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