Alternative-energy jobs on the rise in Maine

By Ramona du Houx

The Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI), the nation’s first market-based regulatory program to reduce greenhouse-gas pollution, announced the results of the 28th RGGI auction of carbon dioxide (CO2) allowances, held June 3rd. Maine earned $2,583,410.50.

RGGI is a cooperative, market-based effort to reduce climate-changing carbon pollution from power plants and spur investments in energy efficiency and clean energy. Allowance auctions have taken place quarterly since September 2008, generating for Maine, to date, a total of $64,804,926.89 million.

The auction generated $85 million for reinvestment in energy efficiency, renewable energy for the nine participating northern states.

“This latest auction is Maine’s smart, consumer-oriented approach to this climate program in action. Most of this RGGI revenue will go straight to energy-saving programs at Efficiency Maine to help businesses lower energy costs and homeowners save on heating bills,” said Dylan Voorhees, clean energy director of the Natural Resources Council of Maine.

Together, the participating states add up to the seventh largest source of global warming pollution in the world. More than 30 percent of this pollution comes from dirty power plants. RGGI helps to “cap” that, as each power plant has to acquire enough permits to cover its emissions or face heavy fines. They can also “trade” or sell them among themselves.

The Efficiency Maine Trust determines how the revenue generated from the sale of credits can be best used for energy efficiency programs and carbon savings. By law, Maine invests RGGI revenue into these programs and investments. From 2009 to 2011 Maine invested $27 million from its sale of carbon credits in energy efficiency projects, generating $80 million in reduced electric bills for residents and businesses. This activity added a total of $92 million to Maine’s economy, including more than 900 jobs, according to the NRDCM.

Since 2013 Efficiency Maine has been allocating 35 percent of its revenues from RGGI to programs that will reduce home-heating demand, lower costs, and decrease greenhouse-gas emissions.

“Out of the $2.5 million, nearly $1 million will go to the Home Energy Savings Program, enough to help another 1,000 homeowners invest in insulation, heat pumps, and other energy-saving improvements,” added Voorhees.

Alternative energy is among the industries in Maine that show the most potential for job growth, according to a state report commissioned by the Maine Technology Institute in 2013 to identify fast-growing, technology-intensive industries that could yield significant economic growth.

Businesses that work in alternative energy are a part of the state’s fastest-growing sectors, according to the report. The sector experienced job gains in Maine of 11.9 percent, from 2007 to 2012, and is predicted to grow by 4.7 percent through 2022, beating a forecasted U.S. growth rate of 2.3 percent. It also has high average wages, at $74,091. That compares with Maine’s average private-sector wage of $38,090.

Another report, conducted by Charles Colgan, Ph.D., and the Maine Center for Business & Economic Research at the University of Maine found that the state is poised to create 4,200 jobs in 2015. This analysis of wind energy shows that the industry has made a significant impact on the state’s economy, generating nearly $1.3 billion in investment, employing more than 1,500 people per year, and opening new markets for Maine companies.

During the Baldacci administration, the state’s renewable portfolio standards (RPS) established goals for Maine utilities to use more power from wind and other alternative sources. In fact Maine has the highest renewable portfolio standard in the nation, requiring 40 percent of total retail electricity sales to come from renewable sources by 2017, whereas most other states specify about 10 percent. In addition to the standard, the state established in 2008 a wind capacity goal of 8 gigawatts by 2030, with at least 5 GW generated offshore.

RGGI is providing significant benefits to Maine homeowners and businesses by supporting cost-effective weatherization and efficiency improvements, while helping to address global warming. The program is one of the most important steps in Maine’s Climate Action Plan, developed under the Baldacci administration to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions and to create an energy-independent Maine.

Maine joined RGGI in 2007. The program took effect in 2009 and is on schedule to reduce global-warming pollution from power plants by half of 2005 levels by 2020.

Kirbby Mt. in Maine. Photo and graphics by Ramona du Houx