Citizen’s initiative to expand clean energy in Maine

BY RAMONA DU HOUX

December 12th, 2011 

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Atticus Biswell enjoys turbines in Deering Oaks Park that represent the estimated 10,000 which could be created by offshore-wind power. Photo by Greta Rybus

“Clean energy is one of the few bright spots in this challenging economy — with strong job and business growth,” said Rob Brown of Opportunity Maine at the announcement last October of a new citizens’ initiative to increase clean-energy use in Maine.

Maine Citizens for Clean Energy, a coalition of organizations, businesses and individuals, aims to help create jobs, control energy costs, cut pollution, and move the state further towards energy independence. They are currently gathering signatures for the November 2012 ballot. So, if the holiday stroll downtown is interrupted for your John Hancock, this most likely is the reason why.

The ballot initiative would require 20 percent of Maine’s electricity to come from new, renewable-energy sources. It also wants electric utilities to invest in energy efficiency whenever this would reduce energy costs for ratepayers.

“Maine is dangerously dependent on fossil fuels at great cost to the state’s economy, energy security, and environment,” says Dylan Voorhees, clean energy director for the Natural Resources Council of Maine. “Maine people spend more than $5 billion every year on imported fossil fuels, including for generating electricity. By dramatically expanding investments in clean-energy sources like energy efficiency, solar, and wind, this clean-energy initiative will help Maine’s economy, our environment, and our health.”

The initiative builds on existing policies and success: Maine already requires 10 percent of our power to come from renewables by 2017, known as the Renewable Energy Standard. The Baldacci administration also set legal goals, working with the Legislature, to produce two gigawatts of wind power by 2020, to weatherize all residences and 50 percent of businesses by 2030, and to reduce the state’s consumption of liquid fossil fuels by at least 30 percent by 2030.

The Public Utilities Commission (PUC) has repeatedly reported that the Renewable Energy Standard is working — promoting renewable-energy development in Maine without burdening ratepayers.

“The PUC has reported that the costs of the energy standard are incredibly small: 35 cents on an average household’s monthly bill of $75,” said Voorhees.

While Gov. Paul LePage told a group of business people at the Cumberland Club in Portland that Maine should stop using oil to heat homes, he also stated that he wants to eliminate the state’s Renewable Energy Standard.

Right now about a third of Maine’s electricity must come from renewable energy resources. Maine is one of about two-dozen states plus the District of Columbia that have renewable-energy policies in place.

LePage said, “We need to get rid of the renewable portfolio. We need to reduce that.”

Jeremy Payne, executive director of the Maine Renewable Energy Association, said Maine actually has the lowest electricity costs in New England.

“Primarily that’s because we don’t have deposits of coal, oil, gas. We don’t have a nuclear plant in Maine anymore, and we don’t have large, federally subsidized hydropower projects,” said Payne.

Over the past decade the renewable-energy industry has invested more than $2 billion in Maine facilities.

“Reed & Reed has helped to develop renewable energy here in Maine by building many wind-power projects across the state,” said John Cooney from Reed & Reed. “The ballot initiative would create thousands of new, family-supporting jobs in technology, construction, and manufacturing at a time when Maine urgently needs to reduce unemployment.”

Over the past several years, Efficiency Maine has increased public investments in energy efficiency that have saved almost half a billion dollars on Maine electric bills. With state and federal rebates and grants, the news about the savings from energy efficiency has spread, and some companies grew to meet the demand.

“We’ve seized the opportunity clean energy offers in Maine by expanding into commercial scale rooftop solar power,” said Kurt Penney from IRC Solar Roofing. “We’ve hired four full-time employees this year and look forward to expanding further as we do our part to provide renewable energy with stable, long-term prices for our clients.”

Efficiency Maine, the PUC, and Central Maine Power have identified over $800 million of additional untapped savings that could be achieved in Maine through further cost-effective energy investments.

But businesses need a stable state energy policy to give them confidence to continue to expand. With the UMaine floating-platform wind-farm project proposed for off the coast of Maine, potential business investors are keeping a weather eye on Maine’s Renewable Energy Standard. According to officials, the project would employ at least 17,000.

“We believe the Renewable Energy Standard has provided and will continue to provide an excellent business signal to investors that Maine is open for their renewable-energy investment,” said Payne. “Stable, consistent policies are exactly what the renewable-energy community looks for when considering project development.”

Then there is the national security threat posed by continuing to use foreign oil and the moral obligation the nation has to our troops.

“We send billions overseas to countries that threaten our national security,” said Andrew Campbell, Iraq war veteran and member of Operation Free. “By making the transition to clean, sustainable sources of energy here at home, we can reduce our dependence on other nations, making our families safer and our future more secure.”