Janet Mills takes heavy criticism over Blaine House solar panels cost and project, as some sit buried in snow

Left: A photo from MPBP of the rooftop solar panels at the Blaine House buried in snow at 4pm on Wednesday. Right: A photo of the solar panels on the Blaine House lawn partially covered in snow taken earlier in the day Wednesday and posted by State Rep. Larry Lockman.

AUGUSTA – Given the photo-op and full court press Governor Janet Mills and her team put on for the unveiling of the $63,000 Blaine House solar project, it was unsurprising that most initial media coverage of the project was light, positive and some say, a little bit fawning. After a Maine Examiner report broke down the numbers behind the project, Janet Mills is taking some pretty heavy criticism.

Maine People Before Politics, a non-profit organization that focuses on stepping out and away from policies that favor special interest groups, has published two statements on the topic. The first statement came on Tuesday and highlighted what they see as insufficient savings for the cost of the project and pointing out that the solar panels will probably never pay for themselves.

That statement includes criticism to Mills for accepting the sole bid the contract received. A news report from the Portland Press Herald would later reveal that other potential bidders opted not to take a shot at the project, with one saying the economics of the project were “upside down.”

MPBP challenged Mills with a question to close that statement, “If a 42-year payback on equipment that only lasts 25 years is such a good investment for the state, will Governor Mills put a similar system on her home in Farmington when the taxpayers aren’t footing the bill?”

On Wednesday, MPBP published photos of the solar panels on the roof of the Blaine House garage, still covered in snow from a storm early in the week.

Saying they had stopped by at 10 am, 1 pm and 4 pm, to check the status of the panels, MPBP said about Mills, “Making sure the new panels actually are able to generate electricity is less important than their symbolism.”

The group provided photos with the statement, illustrating their point with the times they were taken and red arrows pointing at the snow-covered panels.

Others also got in the act, with some people in and around Augusta posting photos of the solar panels on social media or texting pictures to their friends to show the panels buried in the state’s first significant snowfall.

The criticism seemed to have Mills administration spokeswoman Lindsay Crete on the job. Crete was quoted in the Portland Press Herald article saying that the payback period is not the only measure of the Blaine House solar project.

Crete also made a strange comparison, saying that the savings was equal to offsetting the burning of 43 barrels of oil a year, although the Blaine House doesn’t burn oil anyway.

The Portland Press Herald article, a fairly deep dive into the process that led to the project, shows a Mills administration more interested in getting the project done than ensuring the economics were viable.

From the perspective of Governor Mills and her team, it seems the symbol of the solar panels is what counts, not the cost. Others, who think Maine’s nursing homes, disabled and homeless residents and roads were shortchanged by Mills’ in the most recent state budget or other actions, see it as a waste.

In one statement, MPBP even went so far as to recall the Baldacci era of state government where Maine Housing ran up huge cost overruns on “green” building projects and other questionable and controversial expenses.

“It is an ugly monument to the narcissism of progressives, signaling their virtue to the masses, and trumpeting their blind faith in government-subsidized, environmentally destructive boondoggles,” said State Rep. Larry Lockman in a Facebook post, accompanied by photos of the solar panels on the Blaine House lawn, partially covered in snow.

You might love them or hate them, or maybe you’re just shaking your head about the whole situation, but one thing is certain – the Blaine House solar panels have become a symbol.

Whether you see Mills as a courageous politician taking a risk for the pursuit of a worthy message or returning Maine to a reckless, spendthrift past just a few years after emerging from the last financial crisis, the Blaine House solar project has people talking. With winter snow and endless weeks of darkened and gray skies coming in Augusta, people probably won’t stop talking about them anytime soon.

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