Editorial by Sen. Dawn Hill
It’s not every day that Maine has an opportunity to take the lead in a growing industry, create and sustain jobs for its people, lower energy costs and fight climate change.
We seized that opportunity in 2008, when the Legislature passed changes to the Wind Energy Act that paved the way for the development of wind farms in our state. The wind industry invested more than half a billion dollars in Maine’s economy since then, and has created more than 1,500 jobs, according to a 2015 report by former state economist Charles Colgan.
Today, there are more than 200 wind turbines constructed or under contract across Maine. By 2020, they will have cut carbon dioxide emissions equivalent to taking more than 400,000 cars off the road.
But thanks to Gov. Paul LePage, Maine has lost the opportunity to recreate the success of the Wind Energy Act by renewing our state’s commitment to to clean, renewable solar energy.
LePage vetoed LD 1649 — a proposal that had the backing of utility companies, industry groups, Maine towns and cities and regular people all over the state. Unfortunately, 50 Republicans in the House and another 16 in the Senate stood by his side to kill the bill.
LD 1649 would have grown our state’s solar energy portfolio, reduced ratepayers’ electrical costs, and provided jobs for Mainers to build our clean energy future one panel at a time.
The bill would have led to the creation of roughly 200 megawatts of solar energy in Maine over the next four years, a more than tenfold increase over current levels. That’s enough clean, renewable energy to power more than 32,000 homes.
It would have ramped up solar development at all levels, from home rooftops to large, grid-scale solar farms. It would have torn down the regulatory barriers that currently block community solar, allowing groups of people to band together to reduce their energy footprint in ways they could never do alone.
Gov. LePage said he vetoed the bill in part because it would have increased energy costs. In the short term, that may be true. It’s estimated that the average homeowner could see a short-term increase in their electric bill of about 42 cents per month. But in the long term, the bill would have saved ratepayers between $58 million and $110 million.
This bill made good business sense. Even people who don’t want to put solar panels on their own homes would have reaped the economic benefits of this investment in new technology and jobs. So I’m disappointed that Gov. LePage and his allies in Augusta thwarted Maine’s chance to once again take the lead on renewable energy production and jobs.
But I can’t say I’m surprised.
After all, it was just three years ago that political maneuvering and brinksmanship by Gov. LePage scared away StatOil, an international leader in clean energy development that wanted to invest $120 million in our state during the planning and construction of offshore wind turbines in the Gulf of Maine. That investment would have grown by $4 million annually after the turbines were built.
I don’t need to tell you that would have meant a lot of jobs for hardworking Maine men and women. After LePage pulled the rug out from under StatOil, the company decided to invest overseas instead. Mainers lost out. Big time.
Mainers overwhelmingly favor policies that reduce our dependence on fossil fuels, and it’s easy to see why. Our state’s heritage and identity are inexorably linked to our pristine environment and traditional resource-based economy — all of which are threatened by climate change. They also want their elected officials to advocate for jobs in growing industries. And, yes, they want their energy costs to go down.
The solar bill could have met all those goals. You can bet we’ll be back at this again when the new Legislature begins next year. We can’t let Gov. LePage continue to block progress for the state of Maine.
District 35 Sen. Dawn Hill, D-York, serving York, South Berwick, Ogunquit, Kittery, Eliot and part of Berwick, is the assistant Democratic leader in the Maine Senate.