Investment in local clean energy projects and jobs would see a big boost under a bill that received a public hearing today at the Energy, Utilities and Technology Committee. LD 1494, sponsored by Senator Eloise Vitelli (D-Sagadahoc), would expand Maine’s Renewable Portfolio Standard (RPS) by increasing the proportion of renewable electricity sold in the state from 40% today to 80% by 2030, a target also supported by Governor Janet Mills.
“We cannot wait any longer to address climate change and reducing our carbon emissions is central to that effort,” said Senator Vitelli. “This bill will ensure Maine reduces its carbon footprint, transitions to renewable energy sources and reduces harmful pollutants.”
In recent years, as state-based energy policies failed to encourage new investment in renewables, Maine has moved from a leader in clean energy to a laggard. Expanding Maine’s RPS would generate substantial economic and environmental benefits at a minimal cost to Mainers, according to an analysis conducted by Sustainable Energy Advantage and Synapse Energy Economics. The study found LD 1494 would:
- Create 170 new jobs each year between 2020 and 2030;
- Improve public health by curbing air pollution, avoiding $500,000 per year in public health damages between 2020 and 2030;
- Add 700 MW of new, in-state renewable energy projects in Maine;
- Result in minimal impact to Maine’s ratepayers, with only slight increases in residential bills of $1.16 to $1.76 per month between 2020 and 2030; and
- Reduce Maine’s reliance on fossil fuels by 5%, and curbs greenhouse gas emissions from the electric-sector attributable to Maine by 55%.
"It used to be that policymakers had to choose between clean or cheap — now they can have both. The best part of the RPS is its ability to stimulate new investment, new jobs, and all while protecting the environment,” said Jeremy Payne, Executive Director of the Maine Renewable Energy Association. “We know the RPS, when functioning properly, sends a strong signal to investors that a state is 'open for their business,’ and we applaud Governor Mills for leading the way on addressing the economically and environmentally harmful effects of climate change. Her support for having 80% of electricity coming from clean energy by 2030 shows us she is more than willing to walk the walk.”
An RPS is a market-based approach used by 30 states to steadily increase the proportion of power coming from renewables. In 2007, Maine adopted an RPS that required 10% of power to come from new renewables by 2017, on top of a long-standing requirement that 30% of our power come from renewables. In recent years, many states in and out of New England have increased their RPS targets to take advantage of falling prices for renewable energy resources, like wind and solar.
“Maine has huge untapped opportunities for accelerating economic development by investing in clean energy projects and innovative renewable technologies,” said Jack Parker, Chairman and CEO of Reed & Reed. “Development of renewable energy in Maine has already resulted in billions of dollars in investment, significant job creation, tax revenue for the state and rural communities, and reductions in generation of power from fossil fuels.”
LD 1494 creates a structure for shifting to greater renewables and achieving stable, affordable prices for consumers by calling on the Public Utilities Commission to approve a greater number of long-term contracts for large-scale renewable energy projects. These contracts are increasingly seen as a critical tool for increasing capital investment from the private sector and delivering real rate benefits to residents.
“What’s become clear from experience here in Maine and across the country is that accelerating the transition to clean energy is a win-win that benefits both people and the environment,” said Dylan Voorhees, Clean Energy Director at the Natural Resources Council of Maine. “Expanding Maine’s RPS is how we put our renewable energy aspirations into action, creating a structure that will enable new, home-grown energy projects that will spark new jobs, clean the air, and decrease our reliance on expensive, polluting fossil fuels.”
The bill also establishes a “thermal” RPS, which encourages the use of renewable resources for heating. This would include modern wood pellet and chip boilers that can heat schools, hospitals, and other buildings or highly efficient co-generation units that provide both heat and electricity that can be used by sawmills and other industrial facilities.
“Over the past four years, the wood energy economy in Maine has suffered greatly because of unstable policy and lost markets for low-value wood,” said Bob Linkletter, President of Maine Woods Pellet and Linkletter and Sons Logging. “With LD 1494, we now have the opportunity to create a sensible policy platform that ensures Maine is energy independent for the long term. Loggers and wood energy businesses throughout rural Maine will only benefit from this common-sense legislation to incentivize energy cultivated from our homegrown assets.”