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Clean power in Maine
  • Maine voters overwhelmingly voted for Research and Development bonds

    The official tabulation of votes from the June 13, 2017 Special Referendum Election show that the bond issue was approved overwhemingly by Maine voters.

    The Elections Division has certified the results and Gov. Paul LePage signed the official vote proclamation.

    The certified election results show a total of 63,468 votes in favor of the bond issue, and 39,549 votes in opposition. Voters cast a total of 104,213 ballots in this single-question statewide referendum, with 1,196 blanks.

    Question 1 asked: “Do you favor a $50,000,000 bond issue to provide $45,000,000 in funds for investment in research, development and commercialization in the State to be used for infrastructure, equipment and technology upgrades that enable organizations to gain and hold market share, to increase revenues and to expand employment or preserve jobs for Maine people, to be awarded through a competitive process to Maine-based public and private entities, leveraging other funds in a one-to-one ratio and $5,000,000 in funds to create jobs and economic growth by lending to or investing in small businesses with the potential for significant growth and strong job creation?”

    The funds will support job growth in Maine’s high tech industries, creating good-paying jobs, new products and new services. Mainers will benefit from innovation in biotech, forest products, marine resources and information technologies. New construction projects will create additional jobs for building contractors, tradespeople, equipment suppliers, and professional service providers, increasing economic activity throughout the State.

    The funds will be administered by the Maine Technology Institute (MTI)www.mainetechnology.org and applicants will be selected through an independent, review process to select projects with the greatest potential for return on investment. Applicants are required to match dollar-for-dollar, the amount of the grant award -increasing private sector investments and accountability.

    The Elections Division will post the results online this week at http://maine.gov/sos/cec/elec/results/index.html.

    The legislation will become law 30 days from the date of the official proclamation (July 21, 2017).

  • Barry Hobbins nominated to become Maine's Public Advocate

    Governor Paul R. LePage nominated the Hon. Barry J. Hobbins of Saco on April 12, 2017 to serve as the Public Advocate, a position that represents the interests of Maine ratepayers in proceedings before the Maine Public Utilities Commission, including issues regarding electricity and natural gas prices. The Office of the Public Advocate also supports Mainers on matters related to telecommunications, including accessibility to broadband internet.

    Hobbins, a lawyer in private practice for 39 years, has concentrated in telecommunications law, real estate, municipal and administrative law, land use planning, business and corporate law, criminal and family law.

    “Maine's Public Advocate plays a critical role in protecting the interests of consumers and ratepayers before the Public Utilities Commission, the Legislature and elsewhere. Tim Schneider has done an outstanding job leading this office, and will be sorely missed,” said Rep. Berry, D-Bowdoinham.

    “Barry Hobbins has extensive experience as a legislator, legislative leader, and as my predecessor in co-chairing the Joint Standing Committee on Energy, Utilities & Technology.  Having served with Barry for eight years, I have seen firsthand his commitment to public service. I look forward to holding a confirmation hearing soon, and learning more about how Barry hopes to stand up for consumers and ratepayers.”

    A well-known and respected legislator, Hobbins was first elected in 1972 as the youngest member of the 106th Maine Legislature. He also served in the 114th Legislature, then the 122nd through 125th Legislatures. During his time in the State House, he was a member of many Committees, including Business Legislation, Labor and Judiciary, and served as both House Chair and Senate Chair of the Joint Standing Committee on Energy, Utilities and Technology.

    While serving on the EUT committee, he developed a thorough knowledge of energy issues and was in charge of overseeing the Office of the Public Advocate as it related to wholesale electricity markets, interstate electricity transmission and interstate gas transportation. He also became familiar with the workings of the Federal Communications Commission, which regulates interstate communications of radio, television, satellite and cable systems.

    A lifelong resident of Saco, Hobbins is a graduate of Thornton Academy. He earned a B.A. degree from University Maine Orono and his law degree from the Franklin Pierce Law Center, now known as the New Hampshire School of Law.

  • An Innovator of the Year - University of Maine Advanced Structures and Composites Center

    Dr. Habib Dagher, P.E., Executive Director of the UMaine Advanced Structures and Composites Center in a wind/wave testing facility at UMaine. The Center won a Innovator of the Year Award. The award is given to a company or organization in Maine that has accessed international markets through new and innovative processes or products. Photo by Ramona du Houx

    By Ramona du Houx

    The Maine International Trade Center (MITC) announced the winners of the 2017 International Trade and Investment Awards. The awards will be officially presented during Maine International Trade Day on May 25, at the Cross Insurance Center in Bangor, Maine.

    The UMaine Advanced Structures and Composites Center was at the top of the list. 

    "It's a great honor for the UMaine Advanced Structures and Composites Center to be recognized for working with more than 500 international and national companies, including more than 150 Maine companies, to develop new products, reach new markets, and expand their international reach," said Dr. Habib Dagher, P.E., Executive Director of the University of Maine's Advanced Structures and Composites Center.

    "This award truly goes to our world-leading students, faculty, and staff for their incredible work, as well as the more than 2,000 students who have worked at our lab since opening in 2000," said Dr. Habib Dagher, P.E., Executive Director of the University of Maine's Advanced Structures and Composites Center."

    Using 3-D printers, robots, and digital tools the newest state of the art lab at the Advanced Structures and Composites Center at the University of Maine will officially open this summer. 

    The Alfond Advanced Manufacturing Laboratory for Structural Thermoplastics is a demonstration lab that will test new ways to improve manufacturing. Thermoplastics are recyclable materials that will transform composite materials used in cars, ships, boats, and aerospace applications. Thermoplastic composites are low cost, low weight, recyclable, and corrosion resistant. 

    In partnership with industry, this facility will lead future thermoplastic composites manufacturing research and serve as a test bed for manufacturing solutions and training. This innovative new lab is part of the Advanced Structures and Composites Center that works with entities from around the world to bring advanced materials into construction.

    The Center has 180 full and part-time employees and is housed in a 100,000 ft. world-leading laboratory at the University of Maine.


  • Maine could and should be energy independent

    Imagine if we could keep in-state the $6 billion we spend annually on energy?

    Maine has lots of energy, or the potential for it. As I sat through the interesting E2Tech conference on “Aligning Energy Challenges with Compatible Policies,” I kept staring at the beautiful wood fireplace in the Governor Hill Mansion, in Augusta, thinking a wood fire should probably have been burning that morning.

    After all, many of us use wood to generate heat in our homes, and new energy opportunities, from pellets to biomass, do exist here in Maine.

    E2Tech says that it is a catalyst, a change agent, and a resource center that strives to promote Maine companies, support their robust and sustainable acceleration and help them compete in national and global markets.

    The E2Tech objectives of what they call their “road map” are as follows. Achieve energy and cost savings in the residential, commercial, industrial, and transportation sectors. Reduce pollution and greenhouse gas emissions. Support the growth of a robust state and regional energy market and workforce. And facilitate stakeholder and interagency discussions (electric power sector, natural gas supply and transport, renewable energy, and energy efficiency).

    The E2Tech conference was both entertaining and informative. The speakers were John Cornell, of Central Maine Power; Dan Brennan, of the Maine State Housing Authority; Peter Mills, of the Maine Turnpike Authority; Maine Public Advocate Tim Schneider; Michael Stoddard, of the Efficiency Maine Trust; and Jeff Marks, of E2Tech.

    Here is some of what I learned.

    We must reduce carbon production generated by transportation — it is five times more than the carbon produced by electric production. Some predict that in 25 years we’ll all be driving electric cars.

    Maine has the highest per capita consumption of petroleum in New England and our economy is very consumptive. We must encourage low-carbon energy sources — not natural gas. Yes, bring on the wood, wind, water and sunshine. As I’ve written many times, Maine could be energy independent. And just imagine what would happen if we could retain in Maine the $6 billion we now send out of state to pay for our energy.

    I was particularly interested in Stoddard’s report on efforts to make our homes and buildings energy efficient. I got up and told the story of how, about a decade ago, we had an energy audit performed at our house, did everything recommended, and cut our heating oil consumption from more than 1,500 gallons to less than 500. We got our money back in less than three years in the savings on oil. Given the quick and substantial return, I encouraged everyone to work faster to make all Maine homes and buildings energy efficient. Efficiency Maine is doing a great job, but we need to do more.

    Next we heard about opportunities and strategies.

    One was to improve home “envelopes,” particularly basements, and get the next generation of heating systems (heat pumps and pellet stoves) along with LED lights and efficient appliances. Efficiency Maine’s program has installed 16,000 heat pumps in Maine homes, and “not just south of the Volvo line,” Stoddard says. Yes, rural Maine is getting these too. He also reported that we have the highest per capita use of LED lights in the country.

    Mills is always entertaining and he certainly was at this event. But he also asked a serious question: Why haven’t we been able to raise the gas tax for the last 20 years, while our roads and bridges continued to deteriorate? Good question.

    Peter noted that the internal combustion engine transformed our lives, but “it’s done.” He predicted electric cars will take over the marketplace, and said they’re already very popular elsewhere, including Boston. He’s going to build a charging station on the turnpike to serve all of us, especially people visiting Maine.

    He also predicted that self-driving cars will be popular and will enhance safety and reduce energy use. And he predicted that ride sharing, and more mobility via bikes, buses, and taxis, are in our future and would be our biggest public source of transportation. Yes, his talk was thoughtful and provocative.

    For all the great ideas, it was repeatedly noted that we lack the funding to get to where we need to be. For example, there are still 480,000 homes that are not energy efficient. And the level of complication with federal funds make the use of those funds difficult.

    The E2Tech plan includes these initiatives. Accelerate progress to lower heating costs in the residential sector. Consolidate/streamline renewable energy policies to improve their cost-effectiveness and provide market certainty. Support the growth of innovative technologies. Continue pursuit of a regional solution to natural gas capacity constraints. Increase efforts to assist low-income households with high energy costs. Develop a plan to pursue cost-effective energy improvements in state government.

    There are a lot of impressive people working on a plan and timeline to achieve all of this. If you’d like to learn more, several of the talks are now available on the E2Tech website, along with information about their work. Check it out.

  • Former CEO and Executive Director of The Silk Road Project will lead MECA

    The Maine College of Art’s (MECA) Board of Trustees has announced the appointment of Laura Freid, Ed.D., as the 18th president of the 135 year-old institution.

    Freid comes to MECA as a passionate and proven advocate for the arts and education, most recently serving in partnership with internationally acclaimed cellist Yo-Yo Ma, as CEO and Executive Director of The Silk Road Project, a global cultural arts organization based at Harvard University.

    Silkroad works to connect the world through the arts, presenting musical performances and learning programs, and fostering radical cultural collaboration around the world to lead to advancing global understanding.

    Her prior leadership experience includes serving as Executive Vice President for Public Affairs and University Relations at Brown University and Chief Communications Officer at Harvard University where she was publisher ofHarvard Magazine.

    Led by alumnus Brian Wilk ’95, incoming chair of MECA’s Board of Trustees, and Vice President at Hasbro Toys, MECA’s presidential search process officially started in August  2016, when a search committee composed of a diverse group of representatives from within the MECA community convened to discuss and understand the most essential attributes needed in the College’s next leader.

    In announcing the choice, Wilk remarked on the thorough and extensive nature of the selection process. “It was clear to the entire search committee that we needed someone who has the skills, experience, and appetite to continue building our mission of educating artists for life while expanding our reputation as an international destination for world-class arts education. After carefully considering our impressively deep pool of seasoned candidates from all over the world, our search committee unanimously agreed that Dr. Laura Freid was the right person to guide MECA through our next critical period of growth.”  


    Debbie Reed, chair of the MECA Board of Trustees, described Freid as “an exceptional leader who understands MECA’s mission and the importance of creativity.” According to Reed, “From the moment we met Laura, we were interested in learning more about her demonstrated track record of engaging multiple constituencies while serving in senior leadership roles at multiple institutions. The Board of Trustees looks forward to an exciting future under Laura’s leadership as we move the College forward.”

    “I am grateful for the dynamic leadership that has guided MECA to date and to the entire College community and the city of Portland for creating such an exciting American center for the arts, culture and entrepreneurship,” Freid said. “In times as rife with international, political, and economic tensions as we are experiencing today, I believe investing in the arts has never been more imperative. Art gives us meaning and identity, helping us reflect on and shape our lives; it is fundamental to our well-being. That is why I believe providing artists with the education they need to succeed is such a critical and vital mission.”

    Freid’s educational background is rooted in the philosophy of aesthetics and in the history of reputation in higher education. She holds a B.A. in Philosophy from Washington University, an MBA from Boston University Graduate School of Management, and an Ed.D. from University of Pennsylvania.

    Freid will take office on or before July 1st, replacing Interim President Stuart Kestenbaum, Maine’s Poet Laureate and former Director of the Haystack Mountain School of Arts. Kestenbaum stepped in to lead during a transition year after Don Tuski, Ph.D. accepted the position of President at Pacific Northwest College of the Arts in Portland, Oregon, on the heels of six years of continuous enrollment and endowment growth at MECA.

  • Bangor and Portland's fight against climate change creates jobs and improves health

    Editorial by Bangor City Councilman Sean Faircloth and Portland Mayor Ethan Strimling

    Climate change is an urgent threat. That fact doesn’t change regardless of who is in the White House.

    In 2015, the U.S. finalized one of the most historic, bipartisan policies to tackle climate change, the Clean Power Plan. In fact, both of our U.S. senators, Susan Collins and Angus King, support the plan.

    Yet, the plan is under threat in the federal court, and the U.S. Supreme Court has put its implementation on hold while the lawsuit plays out. Moreover, one of the people suing the Environmental Protection Agency over the Clean Power Plan is President-elect Donald Trump’s nominee to head the agency, Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt.

    But climate change cannot be ignored. (the world isn't -close to 200 countries signed the Paris agreement to curb climate change)

    It is an environmental concern and an economic issue.

    Extreme weather and sea level rise fueled by climate change threaten businesses and homes in our communities, and it has a dramatic impact on outdoor tourism, which provides more than $5 billion in economic benefit to Maine every year.

    The majority of Mainers understand this fact, and many people in our communities have experienced the devastating impacts of climate change first-hand from our fishermen who can no longer bring in a catch, children with asthma and farmers affected by drought.

    In fact, the majority of Mainers support bold climate action and solutions like the Clean Power Plan and the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, a northeastern cap-and-trade program that raises money from selling allowances to emit carbon and uses the money to help businesses and homeowners save energy and money through energy efficiency technologies and weatherization.

    That revenue is a major funding source for Efficiency Maine, which used that money to help save Maine businesses and residents $167 million in energy costs between 2013 and 2015.

    Maine and the eight other member states have shown that carbon pollution can be cut while strengthening the economy. It is an example for how the rest of the country can do the same.

    It would be a big political mistake to rollback these programs nationally and in Maine. But the interests of industry are powerful, and we cannot rely on federal and state governments alone to protect the health and vitality of our beloved communities. It is local governments that are on the front lines of recovery after extreme weather, straining local resources and costing taxpayers billions, and it is local governments that will take the leadership reigns to spur climate action.

    As mayor of Portland and as the former mayor in Bangor, we have made important steps forward on climate change and energy in 2016 and commit to do even more in 2017 and beyond.

    This past summer in Bangor, we implemented EnergySmart Bangor, a program that offers additional savings to homeowners to participate in Efficiency Maine’s Home Energy Savings Program. This makes the programs more affordable for Bangor homeowners, especially low- and moderate-income residents, a segment of the public that often doesn’t have the opportunity to invest in weatherization and renewable energy.

    (Photo: Gov. John Baldacci in 2010 on site at a home his Effciency Maine agency established to help weatherize homes - makeing them energy efficent, saving residents money, creating jobs and improving health outcomes. Photo by Ramona du Houx)

    In fact, the program spurred a 43 percent increase in participation in the program in Bangor between July and September over the same period in 2015. We hope that other cities will take up this model.

    In Portland, we have a climate action plan committing to ambitious goals to reduce our energy usage and clean up our transportation.

    We also have signed on to the Mayors National Climate Action Agenda, a commitment spearheaded by the mayors of Houston, Los Angeles and Philadelphia. In the past year, we have taken steps toward our climate action goals, including starting a community solar farm on the Ocean Avenue landfill property, which will generate enough energy to power City Hall.

    The council also passed a benchmarking measure that will require large businesses and residential buildings to track their energy usage to promote greater energy efficiency.

    Despite the challenges that lie ahead, clean energy is cheaper than ever, and no one can change that public opinion strongly favors renewable energy sources over dirty fossil fuels. The election may be long over, but the fight over our clean energy future is only beginning. We must take action, and as elected leaders of Bangor and Portland, we are committed to the leadership of our communities.

    Sean Faircloth is a member of the Bangor City Council, and he completed his term as mayor in November. He served 10 years in the Maine Legislature and founded the Maine Discovery Museum in Bangor. He is author of two books, one about the increased legislative influence of the religious right and an adventure fantasy for children encouraging geography knowledge and a multicultural perspective.

    Ethan Strimling is the mayor of Portland. He is a former state senator and the former executive director of LearningWorks, a community educational nonprofit based in Portland’s West End.

  • Maine urged to take stronger action against power plant pollution with RGGI

    On February 8, 2017, representatives of nine states in the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic met to discuss taking stronger action to cut global warming pollution. These states, part of a regional program that limits pollution from power plants called the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative,(RGGI) are preparing to make a decision about how much to cut pollution from 2020 to 2030.

    Across the region, RGGI states have cut power plant pollution in half since 2005, and RGGI states have generated more than $2.5 billion for clean energy investment.

    To date RGGI has brought in $83,612,946.15 to the state of Maine for weatherization and alternative energy projects, for businesses and homes. Many of these programs and projects are managed through the Efficiency Maine Trust, set up by Governor John Baldacci. 

    RGGI is the first mandatory market-based program in the United States to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. RGGI is a cooperative effort among the states of Connecticut, Delaware, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New York, Rhode Island, and Vermont to cap and reduce CO2 emissions from the power sector.

    In January, 2017, NASA announced that 2016 was the hottest year on record for our planet, breaking records last set in 2015 and 2014. We know global warming is happening and we know that we are the cause.

    Maine is already beginning to experience more extreme weather events and sea levels along New England and the mid-Atlantic coast are rising faster than every other region of coast.

    "There’s never been a more urgent time to talk about cutting pollution. So we are glad to see Maine updating the best regional clean air and climate program in America – the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative," said Emma Rotner, Campaign Organizer with Environment Maine.

    RGGI cleans the air and improves health outcomes-

    A new analysis last month showed that over its first 6 years, the program saved 600 lives, averted 9,000 asthma attacks, and prevented 260,000 days where people would have had to restrict daily activities, such as exercise, due to air pollution.

    RGGI helps accelerate our country transition away from dirty fuels and toward clean energy.

    "We make power plant owners pay for every ton of pollution they emit. That is driving a lot of great clean energy projects in our communities. For example, from 2013-2015 Efficiency Maine used $25 million to create more energy efficient homes and businesses, drastically cutting down on energy costs (http://www.nrcm.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/10/RGGI4pagerFINAL.pdf). However, we can and must do more," said Rotner.

    "Over the next three months, we have a chance to double the strength of the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative. Doing so would cut pollution faster, help us live longer and healthier lives, speed our transition to clean energy and strengthen our economy.

    "With leadership unlikely to come from Washington DC, states must show the way forward.

    "We urge Governor LePage to keep Maine leading the charge on climate. We should double the strength of the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative to cut pollution in half again by 2030 and invest more in energy efficiency, wind and solar power. Together we can build a renewable energy future, and deliver clean air and a safe, healthy climate for us all.”

  • Scientists call on Collins

    The Penobscot is polluted with mercury - we need the EPA

    Editorial by Dianne Kopec and Aram Calhoun,

    As the name implies, the goal of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is to protect our environment, and it has worked toward that goal since it was created in 1970. That start date is important to the people and the environment of the lower Penobscot River, for in late 1967, the HoltraChem chlor-alkali plant began operating in Orrington on the banks of the river. In the first four years of the plant’s operation, waste mercury was routinely discharged into the river. Much of that mercury continues to contaminate the Penobscot.

    We ask that the community, and Sens. Susan Collins and Angus King — who will soon vote on the nominee to head the agency, Scott Pruitt — consider the value of the EPA and the critical importance of appointing a director who embraces the mission of protecting our environment.

    Senator Susan Collins – (202) 224-2523 Senator Angus King – (202) 224-5344

    We are scientists. We examined the impact of the mercury discharges into the river as part of the Penobscot River Mercury Study, an independent court-ordered study of mercury contamination of the Penobscot River from the HoltraChem plant. This work gave us first-hand knowledge of the value of the EPA and of the environmental consequences when regulations are absent or not enforced.

    One of the first actions of the EPA was a thorough revision of water pollution laws and the creation of the Clean Water Act, which was passed by Congress in 1972.

    For the first time in our history, the government began regulating pollutant discharges into surface waters. It was no longer legal for the Orrington chemical plant to dump its waste mercury into the Penobscot. Instead, HoltraChem began storing the waste mercury in landfills that greatly reduced the amount of mercury entering the river. Yet, roughly 90 percent of an estimated nine tons of mercury that was ultimately released into the Penobscot River was discharged before the EPA began regulating pollutant discharges into our rivers, streams and lakes.

    Today, the evidence of those mercury discharges can be seen in the sediment of the Penobscot River. Buried 16 inches below the surface of the sediment is a layer of extreme mercury contamination, deposited during the early years of plant operation.

    The sediment deposited after EPA was created is less contaminated.

    Yet, buried contaminants do not always remain hidden. River and slough channels can change course, releasing long-buried mercury into the surface sediment that is swept up and down the river with the tide. So in some parts of the lower Penobscot the most contaminated sediment is not buried, but near the surface, where it enters our food web and accumulates in our fish, birds and lobster.

    Now 50 years later, we have mercury concentrations in waterfowl almost four times greater than the Maine action level for mercury in muscle tissue, prompting the state’s first health advisory on the consumption of breast meat from ducks. Migratory song birds arrive in marshes along the lower Penobscot with low mercury burdens, but quickly accumulate mercury concentrations in their blood that exceed levels known to cause reproductive failure. Average mercury concentrations in lobster living near the mouth of the Penobscot River are two to three times greater than the Maine action level, and individual lobster have concentrations over six times greater.

    There is now a state ban on lobster harvesting in that area. Without EPA regulations, the river would be even more contaminated. Finally, mercury concentrations in the surface sediments of the river are seven to 10 times greater than background concentrations in rivers Down East, and we estimate it will take a minimum of 60 to 400 years, depending on the area, for the Penobscot to clean itself.

    Pruitt, the Oklahoma attorney general, has been nominated to head the EPA, despite the fact that he is a leading advocate against the agency. His history of suing the EPA over environmental regulations, the same regulations that now limit discharges to the Penobscot, should disqualify him from service as the agency’s director.

    This is only one example of the positive role the EPA plays in safeguarding public and environmental health. Environmental regulations save our country money, provide jobs, and ensure the health of all animals, plants and the humans who see clean air, water and soil as an American right. The EPA needs a leader who will defend that right.

    Dianne Kopec is an adjunct instructor in the department of wildlife, fisheries, and conservation biology at the University of Maine in Orono. Aram Calhoun is a professor of wetlands ecology at UMaine. Peter Santschi, a regents professor in the department of marine sciences at Texas A&M University in Galveston, and Ralph Turner, a mercury researcher at RT Geosciences Inc., also contributed to this piece.

  • PUC in Maine begins to stand in the way of alternative energy

    On January 31,2017 the Maine Public Utilities Commission (PUC) adopted a final rule that would make significant and potentially damaging changes to Maine’s net metering system which has incentivized the proliferation of clean renewable energy technologies statewide and across the country.

    "Providing full credit to residential solar customers for the energy they produce will continue to drive the growth of solar in Maine. Unfortunately, this action by the Public Utilities Commission will do just the opposite. We urge the legislature to act swiftly to restore good solar policy for Maine’s future," said Environment Maine campaigns director Laura Dorle.

    Under the new rules, Maine residents who install solar after January 1, 2018 will receive less credit for the extra energy they send back to the power grid. 

    “Clean renewable energy sources are the best pathway our state has to lower energy prices, more good-paying jobs and a smaller carbon footprint," said Rep. Seth Berry.

    "The rule adopted today by the PUC seems to take us in the wrong direction by making major and disruptive changes despite overwhelming public input regarding risks to our energy and jobs markets.

    "This rulemaking only underscores the need for the Legislature to move quickly to protect jobs, ensure market stability and keep Mainers in control of their energy future.”

     “With Maine nearly last for solar installed in New England, it is wrong for regulators to roll back solar policies that work. Studies show that solar delivers valuable benefits to society, the environment and all energy users. Solar is pollution-free, has no fuel cost and eliminates the need for dirty power plants and expensive transmission lines," said Dorle.

    Representative Seth Berry is the House chair of the Legislature’s Energy, Utilities and Technology Committee. He previously served 8 years and helped write important laws pertaining to alternative energy, business and healthcare.

    The Maine Public Utilities Commission (PUC) adopted a Proposed Rule on Net Energy Billing (net metering) on September 13, 2016, and held a public hearing on the proposal October 17, 2016.

    In response, the PUC received several hundred comments, the overwhelming majority of which were opposed to the Proposed Rule.  While initially stating it would have a final rule in place by the end of 2016, the PUC announced on December 19 that it would take additional time to consider its rulemaking.

  • Impact of the Affordable Care Act in Maine and how Dirigo Health helped

    By Ramona du Houx

    Since the Affordable Care Act (ACA) of 2010 thousands of Mainers have gained coverage, and hundreds of thousands more have had their coverage substantially improved.

    On January 16, 2017 the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services released an extensive compilation of state-level data illustrating the substantial improvements in health care for all Americans over the last six years.

    The data show that the uninsured rate in Maine has fallen by 17 percent since the ACA was enacted, translating into 22,000 Mainers gaining coverage, some transfered to the ACA from the established state program, Dirigo Health Care. 

    Photo: President Barack Obama came to Maine after the ACA was enacted and praised Governor John Baldacci for his work on the creation of the Dirigo Health Care Act. Photo by Ramona du Houx

    “As our nation debates changes to the health care system, it’s important to take stock of where we are today compared to where we were before the Affordable Care Act,” said Secretary Sylvia M. Burwell. “Whether Mainers get coverage through an employer, Medicaid, the individual market, or Medicare, they have better health coverage and care today as a result of the ACA. Millions of Americans with all types of coverage have a stake in the future of health reform. We need to build on our progress and continue to improve health care access, quality, and affordability, not move our system backward.”

    Photo: Governor John Baldacci with Robin Mills talking about Dirigo Choice in 2007. Photo by Ramona du Houx

    Maine was an unusual case, because the state had enacted the Dirigo Health Care Act during the Baldacci administration, and many of the ACA benefits were already apart of Dirigo. Because of Dirigo it was easier to transfer over to the ACA.

    Governor John Baldacci deserves recognition for creating a model for the ACA. Other portions of Dirigo were dismantled by Gov. Paul LePage, who succeeded Baldacci. Never-the-less Baldacci's Dirigo saved thousands of lives by giving people health insurance for the first time, by expanding preventative care, covering more young adults, by eliminating the pre-existing condition and discrimination against women in health coverage.

    Dirigo Choice, the insurance branch of Dirigo Health, insured more than 40,000 Mainers and also became a model for President Obama’s ACA. In 2010 Monique Kenyon said, "We were shocked,” when she found out her husband was suffering from cancer. “Being a middle-income family we didn’t qualify for any assistance. We couldn’t afford all the treatment without insurance, but insurance companies wouldn’t accept him because he has this preexisting condition. He’s still with us because of Dirigo Choice.”

    Signed into law in the 2003 Dirigo Health Care Reform Act was a bold step toward universal health coverage during a time when policymakers in Washington D.C. and in state houses struggled to take even small steps. A few years later Governor Romney of Massachusetts used elements of Dirigo in his health care policies.

    “In many ways, Dirigo was a pace-setter and blueprint to national reform,” said Trish Riley, former director of Maine Governor John Baldacci’s Office of Health Policy and Finance. Riley said the program saved many lives by helping thousands of uninsured gain access to medical care and enabling more than 1,000 small businesses to provide insurance for their owners and employees.

    Baldacci expanded Medicare, covering many more Mainers, but LePage has refused to accept this part of the ACA, so thousands who were on, what the state calls MaineCare were kicked off because of LePage -  too many have died.

    In 2003, Maine ranked 16th healthiest among the states; in 2010 Maine was in the top ten. In 2003, Maine ranked 19th among the states in covering the uninsured; in 2010 Maine was sixth. With Dirigo Health, Maine created an efficient public health system with eight districts that cover the entire state through Healthy Maine Partnerships. During the Baldacci administration the state reached a milestone in healthcare coverage, won awards for Dirigo and became a model for the nation. (photo below taken in 2010)

    The ACA picked up the torch and contained to save the lives and livelihoods of thousands of people in Maine.

    Highlights of theACA  data include:

    Employer Coverage: 702,000 people in Maine are covered through employer-sponsored health plans. 

    Since the ACA this group has seen:

    An end to annual and lifetime limits: Before the ACA, 431,000 Mainers with employer or individual market coverage had a lifetime limit on their insurance policy. That meant their coverage could end exactly when they needed it most. The ACA prohibits annual and lifetime limits on policies, so all Mainers with employer plans now have coverage that’s there when they need it.
    Young adults covered until age 26: An estimated 8,000 young adults in Maine have benefited from the ACA provision that allows kids to stay on their parents’ health insurance up to age 26.

    Free preventive care: Under the ACA, health plans must cover preventive services — like flu shots, cancer screenings, contraception, and mammograms – at no extra cost to consumers. This provision benefits 588,281 people in Maine, most of whom have employer coverage.

    Slower premium growth: Nationally, average family premiums for employer coverage grew 5 percent per year 2010-2016, compared with 8 percent over the previous decade. Family premiums are $3,600 lower today than if growth had matched the pre-ACA decade.


    Better value through the 80/20 rule: Because of the ACA, health insurance companies must spend at least 80 cents of each premium dollar on health care or care improvements, rather than administrative costs like salaries or marketing, or else give consumers a refund. Mainers with employer coverage have received $2,507,067 in insurance refunds since 2012.


    Medicaid: 273,160 people in Maine are covered by Medicaid or the Children’s Health Insurance Program, including 115,217 children and 52,077 seniors and people with disabilities covered by both Medicaid and Medicare. The ACA expanded Medicaid eligibility and strengthened the program for those already eligible.

    40,000 Mainers could gain coverage: An estimated 40,000 Mainers could have health insurance today if Maine expanded Medicaid under the ACA. Coverage improves access to care, financial security, and health; expansion would result in an estimated 5,000 more Mainers getting all needed care, 5,700 fewer Mainers struggling to pay medical bills, and 50 avoided deaths each year.
    Thousands of Mainers with a mental illness or substance use disorder could get help: Nearly 30 percent of those who could gain coverage if more states expanded Medicaid have a mental illness or substance use disorder.


    Maine could be saving millions in uncompensated care costs: Instead of spending $40 million on uncompensated care, which increases costs for everyone, Maine could be getting $430 million in federal support to provide low-income adults with much needed care.
    Children, people with disabilities, and seniors can more easily access Medicaid coverage: The ACA streamlined Medicaid eligibility processes, eliminating hurdles so that vulnerable Mainers could more easily access and maintain coverage.


    Maine is improving health care for individuals with chronic conditions, including those with severe mental illness: The ACA established a new Medicaid flexibility that allows states to create health homes, a new care delivery model to improve care coordination and lower costs for individuals with chronic conditions, such as severe mental illness, Hepatitis C, diabetes and heart disease
    Individual market: 75,240 people in Maine have coverage through the Marketplace. Individual market coverage is dramatically better compared to before the ACA:

    No discrimination based on pre-existing conditions: Up to 590,266 people in Maine have a pre-existing health condition. Before the ACA, these Mainers could have been denied coverage or charged an exorbitant price if they needed individual market coverage. Now, health insurance companies cannot refuse coverage or charge people more because of pre-existing conditions.
    Tax credits available to help pay for coverage: Before the ACA, only those with employer coverage generally got tax benefits to help pay for health insurance. Now, 63,896 moderate- and middle-income Mainers receive tax credits averaging $342 per month to help them get covered through HealthCare.gov.

    Women pay the same as men: Before the ACA, women were often charged more than men just because of their gender. That is now illegal thanks to the ACA, protecting roughly half the people of Maine.

    Greater transparency and choice: Before the ACA, it was virtually impossible for consumers to effectively compare insurance plan prices and shop for the best value. Under the ACA, Maine has received $5 million in federal funding to provide a more transparent marketplace where consumers can easily compare plans, choosing among 25 plans on average.

    Medicare: 315,160 people in Maine are covered by Medicare. The ACA strengthened the Medicare Trust Fund, extending its life by over a decade.

    Medicare enrollees have benefited from:

    Lower costs for prescription drugs: Because the ACA is closing the prescription drug donut hole, 18,970 Maine seniors are saving $19 million on drugs in 2015, an average of $986 per beneficiary.
    Free preventive services: The ACA added coverage of an annual wellness visit and eliminated cost-sharing for recommended preventive services such as cancer screenings. In 2015, 165,892 Maine seniors, or 71 percent of all Maine seniors enrolled in Medicare Part B, took advantage of at least one free preventive service.

    Fewer hospital mistakes: The ACA introduced new incentives for hospitals to avoid preventable patient harms and avoidable readmissions. Hospital readmissions for Maine Medicare beneficiaries dropped 4 percent between 2010 and 2015, which translates into 232 times Maine Medicare beneficiaries avoided an unnecessary return to the hospital in 2015. 

    More coordinated care: The ACA encouraged groups of doctors, hospitals, and other health care providers to come together to provide coordinated high-quality care to the Medicare patients they serve. 6 Accountable Care Organizations (ACOs) in Maine now offer Medicare beneficiaries the opportunity to receive higher quality, more coordinated care.

    ACA Content created by Assistant Secretary for Public Affairs (ASPA)

  • Rep. Devin combats ocean acidification, addresses conference with Gov. Jerry Brown

    Rep. Mick Devin, of Newcastle, ME, joined fellow members of the International Alliance to Combat Ocean Acidification, including California Governor Jerry Brown, at a combat acidifacation launch event in CA. 

    Maine recognized as a national leader in fighting for healthier oceans 

    By Ramona du Houx

    In December of 2016,  U.S. and global leaders launched the International Alliance to Combat Ocean Acidification in Coronado, CA.  Rep. Mick Devin, D-Newcastle, represented Maine at the event and was a key speaker. 

    “It was an honor to show the rest of the country how Maine is a leader when it comes to addressing the quality of the water in our oceans,” said Rep. Devin. “Scientists are working around the clock because they know how many people depend on the ocean to make a living.”

    The oceans are the primary protein source for 2.6 billion people, and support $2.5 trillion of economic activity each year. Maine's lobster industry could suffer greatly from ocean acidification. Catches like this one would only be read in history books. This lobster was put back into the ocean, as it's way beyond the size fishermen can legally catch.

    Maine is seen as the leading state on the East Coast addressing ocean acidification.  Maine was the first state to establish an Ocean Acidification Commission.  As a result of the commission the Maine Ocean and Coastal Acidification Alliance, or MOCA, was established. 

    Ocean acidification occurs when carbon dioxide from fossil fuel use and other carbon sources dissolves in the water and forms carbonic acid. Other sources of acidification include fresh water from rivers and decomposing algae feeding off nutrients in runoff. Carbonic acid dissolves the shells of shellfish.

    Maine’s major inshore shellfisheries, including clams, oysters, lobsters, shrimp and sea urchins, could see major losses if ocean acidification is left unchecked.

    At the conference, Devin addressed how state leaders are using science to establish priorities in dealing with the rising acidity of the earth’s oceans. He explained how Maine used those priorities to develop a long-term action plan.  

    He stressed the importance of addressing ocean acidification by developing plans to remediate and adapt to it. Devin said that strategy is crucial for Maine to maintain its healthy marine economy, particularly the commercial fishing and aquaculture industries, which are valued well in excess of billion dollars annually. 

    Devin finished his presentation by showing a slide of a boiled lobster dinner and repeating his trademark line about one reason the marine economy matters to so many: “People do not visit the coast of Maine to eat a chicken sandwich.” 

    The Alliance includes several state governments, governments of Canadian provinces, North American tribal governments, and countries as far away as France, Chile and Nigeria. 

    While lobsters are the iconic image of Maine, many other shell fish will be effected, like musscles, and clams. Photo by Ramona du Houx

    Members have five primary goals: advancing scientific understanding of ocean acidification; taking meaningful actions to reduce causes of acidification; protect the environment and coastal communities from impacts of a changing ocean; expanding public awareness and understanding of acidification; and building sustained global support for addressing the problem.

    Devin, a marine biologist at the Darling Center in Walpole and a member of the Legislature’s Marine Resources Committee, is serving his third term in the Maine House. He represents Bremen, Bristol, Damariscotta, Newcastle, part of Nobleboro, part of South Bristol, Monhegan Plantation and the unorganized territory of Louds Island.

     

  • Maine lobstermen know the threat posed by climate change-we must act.

    Editorial by Richard Nelson, lobster fisherman for more than 30 years, member of the Maine Ocean Acidification Commission and the Maine Regional Ocean Planning Advisory Group. He lives in Friendship.

    I rose the other morning and began my preparations to head out on the water from Friendship Harbor to take up the my last load of lobster traps. My thoughts turned from from closing out my season to chuckling over my selection of boots for the day. My dear wife had made a special trip to the attic a month and a half ago to bring down my insulated winter boots, and I became aware of the fact that, with temperatures again climbing to the mid-40s, they would remain unworn this year.

    Many of the thoughts and decisions fishermen make are based on conditions in the environment in which we work. This is certainly not something new. Maine’s lobster industry, which is dependent on a healthy ocean and an abundant resource of lobsters, has a long established heritage of conservation.

    Our good management decisions of the past include throwing back both the large breed stock lobsters and small lobsters, putting escape vents in traps and returning egg bearing female lobsters into the water, marking them to ensure they are protected through future molts. We saw the need to set trap limits and become a limited access fishery, all the while remaining a small-boat, owner-operated fleet.

    Although these choices have helped create a fishery that is flourishing while others are not, we face environmental challenges that are beyond local control and more complex than our marine management system can address.

    The Gulf of Maine is warming faster than 99 percent of the world’s oceans and is uniquely susceptible to ocean acidification. The root cause is rising carbon emissions from burning of fossil fuels. Ocean warming is believed to be a strong factor contributing to the lack of cod and shrimp, the influx of invasive species and other issues, while acidified waters are linked to the hindered ability of shellfish to produce their shells. Not only do these affect fishermen as businessmen by threatening our livelihood, but they also serve to kick-in that heritage of conservation within us.

    We realize, along with other Mainer’s, that we can no longer solve these climate issues alone but must reach out beyond our industry to friends, neighbors and decision-makers in government to support policies to maintain a healthy ocean and the resources on which we depend. But lately the help we seek on the state and federal levels has become a muddled landscape, especially since the election.

    One of the clear and consistent pathways left is the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, which is a cooperative market-based initiative among nine northeastern states to reduce carbon pollution from power plants and spur investments in energy efficiency and clean energy production. While still allowing some self-direction by the power industry, it shifts the burden of carbon pollution costs from families and communities to the polluters and the fossil fuel companies themselves. Since its inception in 2009, we have seen a 35 percent reduction in carbon emissions from power plants and substantial investments in energy efficiency across Maine.

    This year, the program is under review, and proponents are seeking to reduce emissions by 5 percent per year from 2020 to 2030 and a doubling of our renewable power supply. The decisions made now will ensure we take full advantage of the initiative to achieve cost-effective, long-term climate goals. Action to achieve these goals would go a long way in sustaining Maine’s fisheries, both as part of what makes Maine special and the economic drivers they have become.

    From carbon policy to ocean debris, from remediating ocean acidification to increased severe weather events, all have become part of the realities and thoughts of a Maine fisherman. Let’s get our boots on and get to work.

  • The 128 Legislature and how to help the state out of stagnation

     By Ramona du Houx

    Members of the 128th Legislature were sworn into the Maine House of Representatives on December 7, 2016, led by Democratic Speaker of the House Sara Gideon. There are 25 new members and 52 returning representatives in the House, including 36 women.

    “Today, we start out with a Maine economy that is lagging behind New England and the rest of the country in terms of economic growth, recovery of jobs lost during the recession and wage growth,” said Gideon, D-Freeport.  “We lead New England when it comes to the number of Maine children and seniors living in poverty. Those are the facts.  And here is another fact: We have to do better. We will always work together and come to the table in search of common ground to help the 1.3 million Mainers who expect us to rise above politics.” 

    There are issues that could grow Maine’s economy, which haven’t been addressed during the LePage administration. Instead he’s focused on cutting benefits and lowering taxes for the wealthy. in his speach today to the lawmakers he talked about changing the Minimum wage referendum that passed, not about how to grow jobs.

    In a recent interview, Former Governor John Baldacci sited a study conducted by Former Governor King, which listed the top areas in need of investment that still remain areas that need funding.

    "The two leading factors in the study were the education and training of the population and the amount of Research and Development funds invested to help businesses get the latest cutting edge technologies so they can compete successfully with other businesses anyone in the world,” said Gov. Baldacci.

    Maine has suffered under LePage by the lack of Research and Development (R&D) funds that used to spur economic activity as the research, conducted at the University of Maine and other laboratories, was regularly used by start-up Maine companies, there-by growing jobs across Maine. The people have always voted overwhelmingly for R&D bonds in Maine. But LePage doesn’t believe in bond issues and has held bond funds hostage in the past.

    "We've been doing a terrible job at putting resources in Research and Development," said Gov. Baldacci, who invested dramatically in R&D during his administration. "We also need to focus on job training. We're not doing enough to match jobs to the industries established here. Our Labor Department needs to be our Human Resource Department. There are plenty of job opportunities out there that need trained workers and plenty of workers who want the opportunity to work. Our people, families, and small businesses aren't looking for a handout, but are looking for opportunities. Our responsibility is to make sure that happens throughout all of Maine."

    Baldacci started this work with Former Labor Secretary Laura Fortman, but little has been done to progress these job opportunities under the LePage administration.

    The lack of these investments, along with other LePage policies has led to stagnation in Maine.

    “Under Republican leadership, Maine has lagged behind in the national economic recovery. We work longer hours than our neighbors in any other state in New England, yet the purchasing power of our paychecks in one of the lowest in the country. Meanwhile, our governor has turned a blind eye as five of our friends, family members and neighbors die every week from the opioid epidemic. I look forward our leadership team’s work over the next few months to create good jobs and a fair economy that works for everyone, not just those at the top." 

    Members of the House include teachers, small business owners, nonprofit leaders, a former mill electrician, prominent civil rights advocates, farmers, former law enforcement officials, and veterans. 

    “I’m proud of the bipartisan work we achieved last session, particularly to improve services for veterans, but there is more work to be done,” said veteran Marine Rep. Assistant Majority Leader Jared Golden. “In the short term, our first task is to pass a balanced budget that reflects the needs of our state, but we also have to keep an eye on the future. Maine needs to create good paying jobs by investing in the infrastructure our communities need to compete. I look forward to working with my colleagues to address these and other challenges facing our state.”

  • Democrats won a battle for greater transparency for LePage's forensic facility plan

    Photo and article by Ramona du Houx

    Maine democrats won a battle for greater transparency to build a secure forensic facility next to the Riverview Psychiatric Center on November 30, 2016. 

    Democrats said the forensic unit project needs vetting by the Legislature’s appropriations and health and human services committees for a range of reasons including the financing, operations and policy matters related to who would be housed in the facility. Gov. LePage intends for the facility to be privately run, which could jeopardize the health and wellbeing of citizens if not carefully monitored. That overseeing duty needs to be clarified by the Legislature.

    “This is a fundamental change in how Maine cares for forensic patients that demands proper legislative oversight and public input.” said Assistant House Majority Leader Sara Gideon “DHHS has never brought this proposal to the Legislature, but is essentially threatening to build the project elsewhere and at greater cost if they don't get their way. We must provide proper care to Mainers with serious mental illness, and we are committed to making this happen with the proper oversight that protects this vulnerable population.”

    The Democrats present at the Legislative Council meeting – Gideon, Speaker Mark Eves and House Majority Leader Jeff McCabe – sought to table the proposal so it could be fully vetted as soon as the 128the Legislature convenes in January.

    House Minority Leader Kenneth Fredette, however, forced a vote to simply approve the project. His motion failed by a vote of 3-3.

    “Let’s remember what got us here in the first place. Three years ago, the feds came in and found that Riverview patients were severely abused – sometimes even with pepper spray and Tasers,” said Rep. Drew Gattine, D-Westbrook, House chair of the Health and Human Services Committee. “As lawmakers, we have a duty to ensure the safety and well-being of the patients in the state’s care. We can’t simply hand a blank check over to the administration.”

     

  • Maine community and business leaders slam PUC for holding back solar energy jobs

    On October 17, 2016, at a public hearing by the Maine Public Utilities Commission (PUC), a large crowd of Maine residents, business owners, community leaders, and others gathered to oppose the agency’s proposal to roll back solar power rules called “net metering.”

    The hearing addressed the PUC proposal to phase out net metering, the simple mechanism that makes solar affordable for Maine people and businesses by crediting them for excess electricity they provide to the grid.

                                                  The PUC has proposed new fees on the power that solar customers don’t export to the grid but instead use right at their home or business and, over time, to cut the 1-to-1 bill credit for solar production by more than 50 percent. This would make it less affordable to install solar panels and decrease the amount of solar that will be installed in Maine in coming years.

    Those gathered criticized the PUC proposal as extreme, unfair, and likely even illegal.

    “The failure of the Public Utilities Commission to do the right thing means it is more important than ever for the Maine Legislature to step up and pass a solar bill next session,” said Dylan Voorhees, Clean Energy Director for the Natural Resources Council of Maine. “Maine people, businesses, and municipalities see solar as an opportunity to lower costs, boost our economy, create jobs, and reduce dependence on dirty fuels. But lack of leadership from too many of our decision-makers leaves Maine in last place regionally in taking advantage of this opportunity.”

    Many speakers called on the Legislature to adopt a pro-solar, pro-jobs policy to get Maine of its current last-place standing in the Northeast.                                                                                

     “The PUC failed to do its job, which was to properly review net metering, and ignored evidence from its own study about the benefits and cost-savings solar brings to everyone in Maine who pays an electric bill,” said Vaughan Woodruff, owner of Insource Renewables in Pittsfield. “As a result, the proposed rule change would not only take Maine in the wrong direction on solar, but it would also mean higher electric bills for Maine ratepayers.”

    While solar power is enjoying enormous growth and feeding rapid job creation across the Northeast and beyond, Maine remains in last place regionally on solar installations and jobs, due to the lack of effective state policy.

    “Dairy farming and dairy processing is an energy-intensive business, and managing our energy costs is important to our bottom line,” said Caitlin Frame, co-owner of The Milkhouse in Monmouth. “Because of this, and our commitment to sustainability, this year we began to explore in earnest the possibility of installing solar to substantially reduce our energy costs and give us a more predictable electricity cost for our business to rely on in the long run. Net metering is a critical component of farms like ours going solar.”

    During the PUC’s so-called “review” of net metering this summer, approximately 4,400 Maine people and organizations submitted comments or signed petitions asking the PUC to leave net metering intact (or make changes that expand its availability). Those comments came from 315 Maine towns. About 300 commenters/signers in support of net metering were from Aroostook, Piscataquis, Somerset, and Franklin counties. Only one citizen submitted a comment to weaken net metering, and they were joined by Central Maine Power and the Governor’s Energy Office. 

    A poll conducted by Critical Insights this month shows that a clear majority (62percent) of Mainers oppose a rollback or “phase out” of net metering, compared to 25 percent who support it. Across every demographic and political subgroup, a majority oppose the move by the PUC, including: Republicans (56%), Independents (62 percent, 2nd Congressional District (59 percent), those with household income less than $50,000 (65 percent), age 65+ (59 percent), and others. 

    “The City of Belfast has invested in municipal solar projects to reduce energy costs and provide long-term financial stability to taxpayers,” said Sadie Lloyd, Assistant Planner with the City of Belfast. “Our systems generate up to 20 percent of the City’s electric bill. Net metering is crucial to municipal solar projects. Without net metering, the City of Belfast would not have installed solar. For this reason we urge the PUC to continue the program.”

    According to its own rules, the PUC was required to “review net energy billing to determine whether it should continue or be modified” because solar installations have reached one percent of the power generated in Maine. During this “review” the PUC, a quasi-judicial agency, gathered no evidence and conducted no analysis that was subject to public scrutiny, despite the fact that commenters repeatedly asked the Commission to complete some analysis of net metering before proposing changes.

     

    “Growing up on a third-generation dairy farm in Albion, I never expected I’d have a job in solar power just down the road in Liberty,” said Holly Noyes, a financial manager at Revision Energy. “I left the state after college so I could pay off my student loans. But I wanted to be back in Maine to get involved with my family’s farm and be a part of the small communities that make Maine a great state. A good job in solar power made that possible. It would be a terrible mistake to risk those jobs instead of taking steps to triple them so other young people like me can live and work here, too.”

    The PUC proposal would make four major changes to existing net metering rules:

    1. Phase out net metering as it currently exists. For new solar customers, this phase-out would reduce what they receive for the solar power they put on the grid by more than half of what they receive today.
    2. Put a new fee on new solar customers for consuming the power they produce right in their own home or business!This new grid tax is hidden behind a new phrase called “nettable energy.” It is analogous to the grocery store charging for food grown in your garden.
    3. Give existing solar customers continued use of traditional net metering for 15 years, after which they would be subject to the two solar rollbacks above, too. No other state has such a short term.
    4. Removes the 10-person limit on community solar farms – however larger solar farms will also be subject to the phase-out of net metering bill credits, so the proposal gives with one hand and takes away with the other.
  • Paris Climate Agreement Ratification becomes official, now time for action


    By Ramona du Houx

    Thanks to leadership from President Barack Obama, on October 4, 2016 the Paris Climate Agreement cleared a major hurdle as the European Union voted to join the United States, China, India and other nations in ratifying the agreement.  

    The climate agreement has two requirements before it can go into effect: It must be ratified by 55 nations, and the ratifying countries must account for 55 percent of the world's greenhouse gas emissions.

    With representatives from the 28 European Union member countries voting 610 to 38 in favor of the agreement, nations now representing more than 55 percent of the world’s global warming pollution have signed on – crossing the minimum threshold for the agreement to become official.

    Under the agreement, global leaders have committed to limit global warming to no more than 2 degrees Celsius with an aspirational goal of 1.5° C, a benchmark scientists say is critical to avoid the most dangerous impacts of global warming –  including disruption of our food supply, increasingly extreme weather, and loss of coastal regions to flooding.

    The planet has already warmed nearly 1° C above the 20th century average, and scientists have warned that urgent, wide-scale action will be required to stop temperatures from rising much further. 

    “We’re thrilled that global leaders have moved quickly to ratify this important agreement to preserve our climate. It sends a strong signal that the world plans to do more, faster to protect our communities, our families and our future," said Anna Aurilio, Global Warming Solutions Program Director for Environment America.

    Now it's time for the nations around the world to take action for the people's of the world and everyone's future. The impacts of global warming are being felt worldwide and represent life threatening situations for millions. 

    "Here in the United States, we must redouble our efforts to reduce – and eventually eliminate – global warming pollution. President Obama has already put America on track to slash emissions from vehicles and power plants, but we can and must do much more," said Aurillio. "Here in Maine, Governor LePage should act to accelerate our transition to clean electricity by doubling the strength of the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative to further limit global warming pollution from power plants."

    RGGI is the first mandatory market-based program in the United States to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. RGGI is a cooperative effort among the states of Connecticut, Delaware, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New York, Rhode Island, and Vermont to cap and reduce CO2 emissions from the power sector.

    The program, first started in Maine when Governor John Baldacci pushed for it’s implementation and had a bill introduced. The legislation won unanimous support in Maine’s Senate and House. To date RGGI has brought in $81,837,449.15 to the state for weatherization and alternative energy projects, for businesses and homes.

    “RGGI is working. It is helping Mainers reduce our energy bills and reduce emissions. It is a win-win and a model for the entire nation," said Former State Representative Seth Berry, who sat on Maine’s legislative committee that approved the final RGGI rules.

    The world has the tools to shift away from dirty and dangerous fossil fuels towards a 100 percent renewable energy future powered by solar, wind, and energy efficiency. And while contries implement their stratigies- thousands of jobs will be created.

  • New National Offshore Wind Strategy to Drive Deployment Great for Maine

    by Ramona du Houx

    In Sepyember, 2016 U.S. Secretary of Energy Ernest Moniz and U.S. Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell announced the publication of a collaborative strategic plan to continue accelerating the development of offshore wind energy in the United States, the National Offshore Wind Strategy: Facilitating the Development of the Offshore Wind Industry in the United States,which could help enable 86 gigawatts of offshore wind in the United States by 2050. The strategy details the current state of offshore wind in the United States, presents the actions and innovations needed to reduce deployment costs and timelines, and provides a roadmap to support the growth and success of the industry.

     This new wind energy strategy is a part of President Obama’s Climate Action Plan that will create American jobs and cut carbon pollution by developing America's clean energy resources.

    The strategy builds on DOE and DOI’s first joint offshore wind strategy, published in 2011. Since then, the Energy Department has allocated nearly $200 million to support three cutting-edge offshore wind demonstration projects led by the University of Maine, New Jersey’s Fishermen’s Energy, and Ohio’s Lake Erie Energy Development Corporation, and research and development investments in technologies that specifically address the opportunities and challenges across U.S. waters.

    “This Administration has made significant investments in clean energy technologies, supporting a diversified energy portfolio to help meet our Climate Action Plan goal of permitting 20,000 MW of renewable electricity generation on public lands and waters by 2020,” said Secretary Jewell. “Thanks to involvement by partners at all levels of government, community stakeholders, tribes and the public, we've been able to stand up the first federal offshore wind energy program in the history of the U.S. and we are confident the strategy we're outlining today will chart a course for additional investment in clean energy technologies that can help power America's future.”

    Since 2010, the Department of the Interior has issued 11 commercial leases for offshore wind development, nine of which generated approximately $16 million through competitive lease sales and covered more than one million acres of federal waters.

    “Offshore wind has experienced enormous progress during the Obama administration. The first offshore wind farm has now finished construction, and we have gone from zero offshore wind areas leased before this administration to eleven areas that total the size of Rhode Island,” said Energy Secretary Moniz. “Today’s collaborative strategic plan is part of a long-term commitment to support innovation that enables widespread offshore wind deployment and shows how offshore wind will benefit our country with new jobs, less pollution, and a more diversified electricity mix.”

    The National Offshore Wind Strategy identifies key challenges facing the industry and more than 30 specific actions that DOE and DOI can take over the next five years to address those challenges.

    These actions fall into three strategic areas:

    1. Reducing technical costs and risks. DOI proposes the joint development of standard data collection guidelines to foster predictability and inform safe project development  and DOE will work to increase annual energy production and reliability of offshore wind plants.
    2. Supporting effective stewardship. DOI commits to numerous actions to ensure that the regulatory process is predictable, transparent, efficient and informed by lessons learned from regulators in other countries. Additionally, as the first generation of installed projects come online, DOI and DOE will collect field data on parts of offshore development including impacts on marine life and turbine radar interference in order to support future offshore wind siting and plan reviews.
    3. Improving the market conditions for investment in offshore wind energy. Studies are needed help quantify the broad grid integration impacts of adding significant amounts of offshore wind energy to the power system. Such information could significantly benefit the offshore wind community by informing state policies critical to supporting development.

    DOE has found that developing 86,000 MW of these offshore wind energy resources by 2050 would support 160,000 jobs, reduce power sector water consumption by 5 percent, and reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 1.8 percent.

  • Equal Protection of the Laws: America’s 14th Amendment - A Maine Exhibit

    Justice?, by Ramona du Houx
     
    Maine's Equal Protection of the Laws: America’s 14th Amendment exhibit opens on Thursday, September 22nd and runs through December 22nd, 2016
     
    The exhibit will be at the Michael Klahr Center on the campus of the University of Maine at Augusta, 46 University Drive in Augusta.
    Featured are 36 works by 17 Maine artists who were inspired by the rights granted by the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.
    Themes depicted relate to many areas of American society covered by the amendment: including due process, liberty, gender and sexuality, race, legal protections, equality in the workplace, housing, education, law enforcement, rights of the incarcerated, tolerance, and local, state, and federal representation
    The exhibit is being hosted by the Holocaust and Human Rights Center of Maine, in conjunction with the Harlow Gallery of the Kennebec Valley Art Association, with support from the Maine Humanities Council and associated program support by the Maine Arts Commission.
     
    The Holocaust and Human Rights Center is open Monday through Friday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. or weekends and evenings by appointment or when other events are being held.
    People Power, by Ramona du Houx
     

    Participating artists are listed below alphabetically by town:

    Augusta: Anthony Austin
    Bangor: Jeanne Curran
    Biddeford: Roland Salazar
    Brunswick: Mary Becker Weiss
    Camden: Claudia Noyes Griffiths
    Falmouth: Anne Strout
    Gardiner: Allison McKeen
    Hallowell: Nancy Bixler
    Lincolnville: Petrea Noyes
    Manchester: Bruce Armstrong
    Solon: Ramona du Houx
    Tenants Harbor: Otty Merrill
    Town Unknown: Julian Johnson
    Waterville: Jen Hickey
    West Rockport: Barbra Whitten
    Wilton: Rebecca Spilecki
    Winslow: Mimi McCutcheon

    There are several events planned in association with this project, including the Pride Film Festival – a series of four free films held Friday nights in October at 7 p.m. The films this year are The Boys in the Band (10/7), Fire (10/14), Paragraph 175 (10/21), and The Danish Girl (10/28).
     
    Mike Daisey’s one man play The Trump Card had sold out runs this fall in Washington and New York and is now touring throughout the country. With special permission from the playwright, HHRC Program Director and UMA adjunct professor of drama David Greenham will read the hard-hitting and hilarious monologue on Saturday, October 22nd at 7 p.m. and Sunday, October 23rd at 2 p.m.
    The Trump Card reminds all of us of the role we have played in paving the way to create one of the most divisive presidential campaigns in recent memory. Tickets for The Trump Card are $15 and proceeds benefit HHRC’s educational outreach programs.
    As the Stage Review put it, “Daisey breaks down what makes Trump tick—and in doing so illuminates the state of our American Dream and how we’ve sold it out.” 
     
    14th Amendment by Allison McKeen 
    The HHRC is also pleased to host Everyman Repertory Theater’s production of Lanford Wilson’s Talley’s Folly November 17th, 18th and 19th. The Pulitzer Prize winning play is a love story set in Missouri in 1942 and addresses issues of prejudice and the injustices that caused many to flee Europe in the years leading up to World War II.  
    The New York Times said about the play, “It is perhaps the simplest, and the most lyrical play Wilson has written—a funny, sweet, touching and marvelously written and contrived love poem for an apple and an orange.”   Tickets go on sale September 27th.
     
    Also in November, a group of UMA drama students under the direction of adjunct drama professor Jeri Pitcher will present a reading of their work in progress called Created Equal. The project, created in partnership with the HHRC, the UMA Writing Center, and UMA students will focus on the importance of the 14th amendment today. A full performance of the piece is planned for the spring of 2017.
  • ME's proceeds from Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative’s close to $82M

    Maine makes over $2,270,635in 33rd auction

    Article by Ramona du Houx

    Maine brought in $2,265,634.20 from the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI), 33rd auction of carbon dioxide (CO2) allowances.

    RGGI is the first mandatory market-based program in the United States to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. RGGI is a cooperative effort among the states of Connecticut, Delaware, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New York, Rhode Island, and Vermont to cap and reduce CO2 emissions from the power sector. 

    The program, first started in Maine when Governor John Baldacci pushed for it’s implementation and had a bill introduced. The legislation won unanimous support in Maine’s Senate and House. To date RGGI has brought in $81,837,449.15 to the state for weatherization and alternative energy projects, for businesses and homes. 

    “RGGI is working. It is helping Mainers reduce our energy bills and reduce emissions. It is a win-win and a model for the entire nation," said Former State Representative Seth Berry, who sat on Maine’s legislative committee that approved the final RGGI rules.

    States sell nearly all emission allowances through auctions and invest proceeds in energy efficiency, renewable energy, and other consumer benefit programs. These programs are spurring innovation in the clean energy economy and creating green jobs in the RGGI states.

    14,911,315 CO2 allowances were sold at the auction at a clearing price of $4.54.

    The September 7th auction was the third auction of 2016, and generated $67.7 million for reinvestment in strategic programs, including energy efficiency, renewable energy, direct bill assistance, and GHG abatement programs. Cumulative proceeds from all RGGI CO2allowance auctions exceed $2.58 billion dollars.

    “This auction demonstrates RGGI’s benefits to each participating state, helping to reduce harmful emissions while generating proceeds for reinvestment. Each RGGI state directs investments according to its individual goals, and this flexibility has been key to the program’s success across a diverse region.” said Katie Dykes, Deputy Commissioner at the Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection and Chair of the RGGI, Inc. Board of Directors. “Another key RGGI strength is our commitment to constant improvement, as exemplified in the program review process. The RGGI states are continuing to evaluate program elements and improvements as part of the 2016 Program Review, with the goal of reaching consensus on program revisions that support each state’s unique goals and priorities.

    Governor John Baldacci led the effort in Maine to join RGGI and had a comprehensive energy plan similar to Cuomo. Baldacci's clean energy plan focused on how to get Maine off fossil fuels and bring clean energy jobs to the state. His administration created grants to help new innovations like the floating offshore wind platforms and windmills developed at the University of Maine under Dr. Habib Dagher's leadership. (photo: by Ramona du Houx. Dr. Dagher talks with Gov. John Baldacci about the next steps for wind farm implementation offshore. The prototype of the floating windfarm is the firs photo on the page)

    Nine Northeastern and Mid-Atlantic states participate in the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI).        

    “Independent reports have found the reinvestment of RGGI proceeds is creating jobs, reducing consumers’ utility bills, and boosting state economies while driving down carbon emissions,” said Jared Snyder, Deputy Commissioner at the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation and Vice Chair of the RGGI, Inc. Board of Directors. “Our reinvestment of RGGI proceeds is supporting Governor Cuomo’s transformational clean energy and energy efficiency goals to generate 50 percent of New York’s energy from renewable sources and reduce carbon emissions 40 percent by 2030, ushering in the low-carbon economy essential to the wellbeing of future generations.”

  • It’s time to embrace solar and all it can do for Maine

     

    Editorial by Rep. Deane Rykerson- Rykerson from Kittery serves on the Energy, Utilities and Technology Committee.

    LePage squanders jobs, environmental benefits, savings for Maine families and businesses

    When it comes to solar, the future is here. There’s so much opportunity for Maine, but we’re missing out because of opposition from our governor, Paul LePage, and his die-hard allies. We’re missing out on jobs, on energy savings for families and businesses and on a cleaner environment.

    In 1963, my solar energy project won first place in my eighth-grade science fair. There was no economical way then to convert the free and abundant power of sunlight into electricity. Solar cells were for satellites or experiments. Their availability for everyday people and businesses seemed far away.

    Governor, it’s now 2016 – not 1963 anymore. Solar technology has advanced and prices are way down. We should be installing more solar and creating jobs. Without a comprehensive policy, we’re not going to be able to seize the opportunities or even catch up to the rest of the country.

    This year, the governor and enough of his House Republican friends killed the bipartisan solar plan supported by the electric utilities that would have finally brought our policies into the 21st century.

    They threw away over 600 new jobs and put our 300 existing homegrown solar jobs at risk. They threw away $58 million to $110 million in savings for ratepayers. They threw away energy savings for Maine families and businesses, including agriculture.

    The governor keeps talking about energy policies that simply aren’t real solutions.  

    There’s hydropower from Quebec for one. The thing he leaves out is that Quebec is never going to sell us power at the subsidized Canadian rate. It’s in their law. And you can’t get that power from there to here without building new transmission lines. Vermont has learned that Canadian hydro is not a money saver. They’re buying power from Quebec and they have consistently higher electric rates than Maine.

    Meanwhile, we know that the value of solar generation in Maine is more than two-and-half times the retail rate of electricity – and that’s not even including the jobs created.

    Solar generation is free after the initial investment. It saves us from paying for transmission power loss or building new dirty generation and power lines. It reduces pollutants and the health costs associated with them.

    And we keep our money in the state.

    As a frugal Yankee, I don’t want to pay overseas conglomerates to burn oil and gas for my electricity when I can make it freely and cleanly on my garage roof – all while supporting Maine workers.

    On these hot summer days, I think about all the money I’m saving. This is when the grid has the most demand and electricity is the most expensive. Solar saves money for everyone using electrical power.

    It’s time to embrace solar and all it can do for Maine. It is the way forward.

  • Study Shows Solar Saves Money for All Ratepayers in Maine by Reducing Peak Demand

    By Ramona du Houx

    An updated analysis of the “value of solar” power in Maine shows that solar installations within the state cut electricity prices for everyone in Maine who pays an electric bill, by reducing peak demand on the grid and power plants. Consumer demand for electricity peaks on hot, sunny summer afternoons, when use of air conditioning goes way up. This is when solar panels are producing power directly for homes and businesses, thereby reducing the demand for electricity from the grid. 

    The updated study shows that by reducing peak demand, the 20 megawatts (MW) of solar power currently installed in Maine will cut electricity bills by about $45 million for homeowners, renters, and businesses that do not have solar installed. Additional benefits from solar add $17 million further in ratepayer savings, avoided pollution from not burning fossil fuels (valued at $58 million), and local job creation. 

    If Maine had 250 MW of distributed solar, a five-year target lawmakers were considering last session, ratepayers would save $775 million over the life of the panels, including $560 million specifically related to reduced peak demand. 

    “Solar is the perfect solution to peak demand because you can get the most electricity from a solar array at exactly the same time that maximum consumer demand for air conditioning is straining our electric grid,” said Phil Coupe, a co-founder of local solar installer ReVision Energy. “In addition, thousands of solar arrays distributed throughout Maine, supporting the grid, are far more resilient than any centralized power plant.”

    Maine’s electricity rates continue to rise as the state’s monopoly utilities build expensive transmission lines specifically to meet demand on peak summer days. The Maine Public Utilities Commission has forecast that transmission rates will jump 30 percent from 2014-2018. Demand-reducing solar installations lower transmission costs, benefiting all ratepayers.

    Even more importantly, power companies run the most expensive and polluting plants during summertime peaks, such as the oil-burning power plant on Cousin’s Island in Yarmouth. These plants charge very high rates for power during these times and are the most dangerous for our environment. Reduced demand for these plants due to solar installations provides big savings for Maine ratepayers. Reduced peak demand translates quickly into reduced carbon emissions and healthier air as well.

    “With recent news about the challenges Maine is expected to face due to the increasing cost of adding capacity to the grid, one solution is staring us straight in the face,” said Vaughan Woodruff, owner of Insource Renewables. “As coal and oil plants are shut down, an obvious choice for providing more power on the hottest days of the year is to use the heat source – the sun – to generate needed electricity.”

    “We know that 2016 is set to be one of the hottest years on record. As Mainers ramp up the AC to stay cool, the electricity grid faces a heavy, costly strain and we all pay for it,” said Dylan Voorhees, Clean Energy Director for the Natural Resources Council of Maine. “Solar clearly has the ability to reduce the strain, the pollution, and the cost for every Mainer who pays an electricity bill. The study shows once again that Maine should be working for more clean, reliable solar energy.” 

    The “Value of Solar”

    In late 2014 the Maine Public Utilities Commission completed a “Value of Solar” analysis to quantify the costs and benefits of solar in Maine. This summer, solar stakeholders, using the Commission’s methodology, updated the analysis by inserting current energy market information.

    The update shows that every 1 MW (enough for approx. 200 homes) of distributed solar installed in Maine creates $7.7 million in lifetime value.

    • About one-quarter of that value stems from the wholesale value of electricity.
    • About 30% of that value comes in the form of reduced electricity prices for all ratepayers from less need to use peaking power plants and less need for building new transmission and distribution networks to meet peak demand.
    • Significant value comes from reductions in the premiums electric ratepayers pay for uncertain future gas prices.
    • Finally, avoided pollution accounts for a substantial part of the benefit of solar power.

    “The Maine Public Utility Commission’s 2014 ‘Value of Solar’ study was really eye-opening, and people around the country paid attention to that thoughtful analysis,” saidJohn Rogers, senior energy analyst at the Union of Concerned Scientists. “This update shows that the numbers continue to look impressive as our energy markets evolve. That should give people real confidence that Mainers who go solar are making a positive difference, providing value from lower electric rates to cleaner air.”

    “Mainers are providing cleaner solar energy locally, saving their neighbors millions,” said Chris Rauscher, as spokesperson for The Alliance for Solar Choice. “The Public Utilities Commission should thoroughly examine all of the financial and clean air benefits from rooftop solar before making any changes to solar customers' rates."

    Investor-owned monopoly utilities, such as Central Maine Power, receive a 12% guaranteed rate of return for building costly transmission and distribution line upgrades, which gives them a strong incentive for doing so. 

    “CMP seems perfectly content to watch rates climb as a result of their own spending on transmission lines, at the same time the company complains about solar, downplaying the benefits solar provides to CMP customers by avoiding the need for costly transmission lines and peaking power plants,” said Rauscher.

    “The middle of summer is a good time to thank your neighbors and others who have invested in solar, because they are helping reduce electricity costs for all of us,” saidVoorhees.

     

  • Rep. Saucier introduces bill to ensure northern counties are included in reduced electricity rates for manufacturers

             

    By Ramona du Houx

    Rep. Robert Saucier has introduced legislation to ensure that Aroostook and Washington counties benefit from reduced power rates for Maine’s largest manufacturers.

    Earlier this year, the Legislature passed Public Law 498 with the intent of providing $3 million of Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative Trust Fund revenue to Maine’s largest employers that are manufacturers. Regulators recently have ruled the program is limited to the ISO-New England Grid. Aroostook and Washington Counties are connected to the Northern Maine Independent System Administrator grid Saucier agured that these Counties should be able to access RGGI trust funds..

    “We are as much a part of Maine as any other county and in fact have been hit harder and for longer by the recession than other parts of the state,” said Saucier, of Presque Isle. “Whether it is through this program or another, our area should not be excluded from reduced power rates that help other Maine businesses compete at the state and national level. Aroostook County is home to a number of manufacturers who contribute greatly to the economic health of our region. That is why I am introducing legislation to re-open the conversation on this decision.”

    To date RGGI has brought in $79,566,813.5 5 to the state for weatherization and alternative energy projects, for businesses and homes. RGGI is the first mandatory market-based program in the United States to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. In the most recent auction RGGI earned the state over $2.2million. The funds are distributed through the trust fund.

    Aroostook County is home to McCain Foods, one of the largest frozen potato operations on the east coast, employing more than 500 employees. They issued a statement in May stating they should be included in the program.

    “I will be working closely with Rep. Saucier on his legislation to correct this,” said Rep Alley, from Beals. “It is frustrating that we would be left out of a program that would bring much-needed economic relief to our area. We need to see to it that businesses in Washington County can get the help they need to lower their energy costs.”

    Saucier is serving his second term in the Maine Legislature and represents part of Presque Isle.

    Alley is serving his first term in the Maine House and represents Addison, Beals, Cherryfield, Columbia, Columbia Falls, Harrington, Jonesboro, Jonesport, Marshfield, Milbridge and Whitneyville.

     

  • It’s time for Portland to assume a leadership role on solar energy

    Our officials should forge ahead on a solar plan, starting with the Ocean Avenue landfill project.

    Climate change is the greatest threat to the survival of not just the human species, but all species. It represents the principal challenge facing humanity in our day. No cause is more pressing, Pope Francis said in his 2015 encyclical on the environment and human ecology.

    Burning fossil fuels generates carbon dioxide. Carbon in the atmosphere forms something like a “blanket” over the Earth that traps the sun’s heat rather than allowing it to radiate back out. This build-up has caused the average temperature of the Earth’s surface to rise almost 1.8 degrees Fahrenheit (1 degree Celsius) since the late 1800s.

    Fifteen of the last 16 hottest years have happened since 2001, and scientists overwhelmingly agree that increasingly wild weather around the world is related to the global temperature rise. That’s climate disruption.

    So much fossil fuel has already been burned that it’s going to take determination and commitment internationally, nationally and locally to avoid shooting past the dangerous 3.6 degrees F (2 degrees C) warming mark. That’s the commonly recognized boundary for keeping the climate compatible with human life as we know it. This means essentially stopping global CO2 emissions by 2060. That may seem like a long time in the future, but it’s within the lifetime of people under 40.

    Cities are leading the transition to 100 percent clean energy in the United States. Twelve U.S. cities and counting, including San Francisco and San Diego, have already adopted ambitious 100 percent clean energy goals, and four cities in the U.S. – Aspen, Colorado; Burlington, Vermont; Greensburg, Kansas; and Kodiak Island, Alaska – have already hit their targets. These cities now generate 100 percent of the energy used community-wide from non-polluting and renewable sources.

    It’s time for Portland to assume a leadership role in solar energy deployment in Maine. Solar is the best non-carbon source for urban areas: The sun’s energy is constant and plentiful. And the faster we deploy solar power, the more costs will fall, making needed changes more affordable. Mayor Ethan Strimling has said he wants to have 25 percent of Portland’s homes and businesses using solar energy within 10 years.

    At the Paris climate summit, diplomats from 195 countries agreed to set a goal of preventing that 3.6 degrees F (2 degrees C) rise. Germany is already a model of national solar energy deployment despite getting less sunlight than does Maine.

    In the U.S., political power struggles at the federal and state levels have prevented comprehensive, affordable solar strategies from becoming the norm. Maine, for instance, has a present solar penetration of 1 percent of peak load. This needs to be closer to 10 percent if we intend to meet the U.S. emissions reduction targets.

    Completing the proposed solar installation on the Ocean Avenue Landfil to supply energy for city buildings and operations would be an excellent way to demonstrate leadership. The project, planned for this year yet put in doubt by the solar bill’s defeat, would make an otherwise unusable area vital and productive.

    Installing a solar array at the Ocean Avenue landfill will send a message that’s consistent with Portland’s reputation as a forward-thinking city. Yes, the Maine Legislature's faliure to override the governor's solar bill veto has been a setback. And yes, there’s some uncertainty about how long it will take to pay ourselves back with energy savings.

    But leadership requires proceeding despite setbacks and uncertainties. No energy enterprise is entirely without risk, and the risks of renewable energy inaction are far higher than the risks of forging ahead with determination and hope.

    The project also makes long-term economic sense. Today’s solar arrays last at least 25 years. The reduction in energy costs will allow Portland to recoup its investment and ultimately to save millions of tax dollars.

    We can’t mitigate extreme climate disruption and create a sustainable energy future without a plan. Portland shouldn’t let politics or lack of planning at higher levels stymie our doing the right thing. By moving now, Portland can show the way for others. We call on our elected and appointed officials to forge ahead on a solar plan, starting with the Ocean Avenue landfill project. The Portland Climate Action Team stands ready to assist.

  • Penobscot River Restoration Project final milestone - reconnects river to the sea

    In June, 2016 federal, state, local, and tribal representatives, and project partners gathered in Howland, Maine, to mark and celebrate the completion of the last major milestone in the Penobscot River Restoration Project: the newly constructed fish bypass around the dam in Howland.

    “The Service is proud to have spent over a decade working with the partnership to creatively craft and create a better future for the Penobscot River, modeling how we should restore rivers across the globe,” said Dan Ashe, Director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. “We have completed monumental construction projects, energy improvements, and other steps redefining how the Penobscot River serves fish, the people of Maine, and the Penobscot Indian Nation. This project has managed to do it all: restore vital habitat for fish and wildlife, support energy needs, and create new economic and recreational opportunities throughout the watershed.”

    Completion of this large stream-like channel will allow American shad, river herring, and Atlantic salmon to swim freely around the dam to and from important historic breeding, rearing, and nursery habitat for the first time in more than a century. The Howland fish bypass fulfills the Penobscot Project’s goal of significantly improving access to nearly 1,000 miles of Maine’s largest river for eleven species of native sea-run fish, while maintaining energy through increased hydropower generation at other dams in the watershed.

    (River reflection, photo by Ramona du Houx)

    The Penobscot Project is widely considered one of the largest, most innovative river restoration projects in the nation-

    “Construction of the Howland bypass is another milestone in efforts to restore Maine’s native sea-run fisheries in the Penobscot River,” said Patrick Keliher, Commissioner of the Maine Department of Marine Resources. “Passage of anadromous fish species is critical to the health of our state’s marine and freshwater ecosystems. This project will not only provide access to hundreds of miles of critical habitat to Maine’s native sea-run fish, it will ensure continued opportunity for renewable power generation on the Penobscot River.”

    Four years ago, in June 2012, the Great Works Dam removal began, followed by the removal of the Veazie Dam at the head of tide in 2013. At the same time, dam owners built a fish elevator at the Milford Dam, now the only dam on the lower Penobscot.  Dam owners increased power generation at several other locations within the Penobscot watershed to maintain and even increase power generation. 

    Today, the river is on the rebound. This year, more than 1.7 million river herring have already passed above dams removed by the Penobscot Project – up from only several thousand before the Veazie Dam was removed. Fish are now swimming upriver past Howland and into the Piscataquis and through the Mattaceunk Dam on the Penobscot in Medway, and have been observed more than 90 miles upriver from Penobscot Bay. In addition, a record-breaking 2,700 shad passed by Milford this spring. In another exciting development, last week fisheries experts saw the first American shad in recent history passing the West Enfield dam.

    New community activities abound. The new national whitewater race, a 4-day event featuring activities from Old Town to Eddington, is entering its second year.  An annual alewife festival and children’s days has begun at Blackman Stream in Bradley, where more than 450,000 river herring swam up the stream this past month.

    “Construction of the Howland bypass is another milestone in efforts to restore Maine’s native sea-run fisheries in the Penobscot River,” said Patrick Keliher, Commissioner of the Maine Department of Marine Resources. “Passage of anadromous fish species is critical to the health of our state’s marine and freshwater ecosystems. This project will not only provide access to hundreds of miles of critical habitat to Maine’s native sea-run fish, it will ensure continued opportunity for renewable power generation on the Penobscot River.”

    Dam owners, conservation groups, tribal, state, and federal agencies, and citizens, worked together for more than a decade to accomplish the Penobscot River Restoration Project, which better balances restoration of native sea-run fish with hydropower generation.

    “NOAA Fisheries congratulates the Penobscot River Restoration Trust on their completion of the nature-like bypass in Howland, and looks forward to the continued restoration of sea-run fish to the Penobscot River watershed,” says Dan Morris, Deputy Regional Administrator, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, NOAA Fisheries Greater Atlantic Region. “The Trust, its member organizations, State of Maine, U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, and Penobscot Indian Nation have been wonderful partners in the Penobscot River Restoration Project over the years.”

    Restoring the Penobscot Indian Nation's river-

    The restored river provides many cultural, economic, and recreational opportunities from the Penobscot headwaters to the Gulf of Maine. As a result of the project, the river now better supports Penobscot Indian Nation tribal culture, renews traditional uses, provides major benefits to fish and wildlife, and increases business and regulatory certainty for dam owners.

    “The Penobscot River watershed is the ancestral home of the Penobscot Nation, and has sustained our tribal members since time immemorial,” said Kirk Francis, Chief of the Penobscot Nation. “The Penobscot River Restoration Project has allowed our tribe to continue our role as the original stewards of this great resource and we are proud to have been a part of a project that will benefit generations of all peoples well in to the future.”

    The Penobscot Project also demonstrates how diverse interests can work together to develop results-based approaches to fisheries restoration and hydropower basin-wide. This type of approach could serve as a model for other efforts around the world.

    Like the overall Penobscot Project, the Howland Bypass was funded through a combination of federal and private sources, with major funding from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Fish Passage Program.  The Howland Bypass design and construction team included Kleinschmidt, Inter-Fluve, Inc., Haley Aldrich, CES, Inc. and SumCo Eco-Contracting.

    The Penobscot River Restoration Trust is a nonprofit organization responsible for completing the core elements of the Penobscot Project. Members are the Penobscot Indian Nation, American Rivers, Atlantic Salmon Federation, Maine Audubon, Natural Resources Council of Maine, Trout Unlimited, and The Nature Conservancy. Other major partners include the State of Maine (Department of Marine Resources, Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife), Department of the Interior (U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, National Park Service, Bureau of Indian Affairs), PPL Corporation, and Black Bear Hydro Partners LLC.     

     

  • Maine Public Utilities Commission requests proposals from biomass electric generators

    On June 20th the Maine Public Utilities Commission (Commission) issued a Request for Proposals for the Sale of Energy from Biomass Resources (RFP). Eligible Biomass Resources are sources of electric generation fueled by wood, wood waste or landfill gas that produce energy delivered to the New England (ISO-NE) or northern Maine (NMISA) system.  Bidders selected by the Commission will enter into two-year contracts with one or both of Maine’s investor-owned transmission and distribution utilities - Central Maine Power Company and Emera Maine.  Proposals will be evaluated based on the costs and benefits they provide, including economic benefits to the State of Maine. 

    The RFP and related materials are available on the Commission's website at the following link: http://www.maine.gov/mpuc/electricity/rfps/biomass2016/index2.html  Inquiries regarding the Biomass Resources RFP should be directed to Faith Huntington at faith.huntington@maine.gov. 

    Background: During its 2016 session, the Maine Legislature enacted An Act To Establish a Process for the Procurement of Biomass Resources (Act) P.L 2015, Ch. 483.  The Act directs the Commission to initiate a competitive solicitation for the procurement of energy from up to 80 MW of Biomass Resources and authorizes the Commission to direct the transmission and distribution utilities to enter into one or more two-year contracts contingent upon available funds.  The Act establishes a Cost Recovery Fund to pay the above-market costs of the contracts and directs the State Controller to transfer up to $13.4 million to the Fund at the close of fiscal year 2015-16.

  • Despite massive support for solar energy bill LePage's veto stands as GOP abandons clean energy jobs in Maine

    GOP members fall in line behind governor, reject collaborative comprehensive policy

     By Ramona du Houx

    Forty-nine House Republicans sided with the governor April 29th and sustained his veto of a historic solar energy bill that would have created hundreds of new clean-energy jobs, increased installation tenfold and reduced electricity costs for all ratepayers.

    The vote was 93-50, short of the two-thirds needed to override the veto.  LD 1649, An Act To Modernize Maine’s Solar Power Policy and Encourage Economic Development, is now dead.

    “Too many Republicans fell in line behind the governor today. They turned their backs on Maine workers, Maine’s homegrown solar industry and new investment for Maine,” said Assistant House Majority Leader Sara Gideon, D-Freeport, who sponsored the legislation that created the stakeholder process that led to LD 1649. “An amazing collaborative effort created the opportunity to grow good-paying jobs of the future and modernize our economy. I thank the 12 Republicans who refused to throw that all away and chose good policy over partisan politics.”

    LD 1649 would have created 650 new jobs by growing new solar markets, protected 300 existing jobs, increased installation tenfold (from the current 18 megawatts to 196 megawatts) and created between $58 million and $110 million in ratepayer savings. It would have created a comprehensive solar policy for Maine, the only New England state without one. Maine is in last place in the region in solar development and job creation.

    “It’s outrageous that 49 Republicans voted to deny Maine job growth, economic development opportunity and lower electricity bills for the families and businesses in their districts,” said Rep. Mark Dion, D-Portland, House chair of the Energy, Utilities and Technology Committee. “This bill was crafted by stakeholders from diverse perspectives and improved through bipartisan legislative cooperation. We needed this jump start for our stagnant economy.”

    “This is an extremely disappointing moment for solar power in Maine.” said Dylan Voorhees, Clean Energy Director for the Natural Resources Council of Maine. “It took years of hard work to hash out this broadly-supported solar policy that works for Maine. I’m so proud that Maine people, businesses, towns, and others stood up together to call for Maine to get out of last place on solar and reap the jobs, lower cost electricity, and pollution reductions it brings. Unfortunately the Governor and his allies worked aggressively to thwart the bill at all costs.” 

    The state currently has roughly 300 solar jobs.

    Key features of the bill included:

     

    • Installing 196 MW of solar by 2021, including: 70 MW of residential and small business solar, 36 MW of large community solar, 50 MW of grid-scale (< 5 MW) solar, and 40 MW of commercial/municipal solar. From these categories would have been 8 MW of solar located at agricultural businesses.
    • Revising net-metering to become what some are calling “next-metering,” allowing homes and businesses to continue to consume their own solar power and receive bill credits for what they put back onto the grid, but increasing stability.
    • Grandfathering customers by allowing them to stay with traditional net-metering or swap to the new program when it is rolled out in 2017.
    • Completely lifting the arbitrary limits that are currently in place on community solar, allowing for many types and scales of community solar farms.
    • Using market mechanisms to build solar at the lowest price possible, while better capturing the benefits of solar as a clean source of renewable energy that produces power at some peak periods, and returning that value to all ratepayers.
    • Incorporating multiple adjustment and review mechanisms, to make sure the program is succeeding with the twin goals of developing solar and lowering electricity costs for all.

     

     LD 1649 was crafted by a stakeholders group made up of Maine’s solar businesses, municipal leaders, environmental groups, Maine’s public advocate and utility companies. After it was crafted by the Energy Committee, Co-chairman Sen. David Woodsome, R-North Waterboro, and Rep. Norman Higgins, R-Dover-Foxcroft, amended the bill to include additional protections for ratepayers and additional allocations for agricultural solar.

    LePage vetoed LD 1649 April 28th after meeting with Gideon. The two had met five times to find a common ground, and Gideon and the stakeholders agreed to accept the governor’s two proposals. LePage then asked for another change that the coalition could not accept because it would harm Maine solar businesses and jeopardize jobs.

    In his veto letter, the governor incorrectly states that there are no price caps for long-term contracts. In fact, the existing bill with the Woodsome-Higgins amendment had three different price caps built in: on the prices that the Public Utilities Commission can set for residential solar; on how prices can be adjusted in the future; and on bids the PUC can accept for all the other market segments. In his recent negotiations with Gideon, the governor asked for a cap that would be set after 18 months to the standard offer, currently 6.5 cents per kwh for Central Maine Power, which the bill’s proponents rejected as harmful to nearly all of Maine’s solar installers.

    The bill already monetized the value of renewable energy credits and returned that money to all ratepayers to lower their costs. The bill’s proponents had also been willing to include other renewables in the bill.

  • Gov. LePage and his allies push amendments that could damage Maine’s solar industry

    Their Actions Could Cost as Many Jobs as the Madison Mill Closure

    By Ramona du Houx 

    At a State House news conference April 1, 2016 leaders of solar companies across Maine decried the attack on their industry by Governor LePage and his allies, including House Minority Leader Ken Fredette.

    Many Maine’s communities are being torn apart by the loss of mill jobs. Maine’s solar industry could provide opportunities to employ the next generation of blue collar workers. The solar policy bill is projected to create 800-1,000 new jobs in the state without any costs to Maine’s taxpayers and ratepayers.

    Sadie Alley Fereirra of Sun Dog Solar speaks on behalf of jobs and the solar power industry in Maine at the press conference. Sadie holds a degree in Power Engineering Technology from Maine Maritime Academy

    "At a time when Maine's economy desperately needs jobs, we should be embracing and supporting Maine businesses, not trying to run them out of business,” said Vaughan Woodruff, owner of Insource Renewables of Pittsfield, chair of MABEP’s Committee on Renewable Energy (CORE). 

    “Instead of removing barriers to ensure fair treatment of ratepayers, solar power generators, and utility monopolies, the actions of the governor and his supporters threaten to kill our industry. If legislators can move past the governor's rhetoric to support a bipartisan agreement to benefit ratepayers and Maine's economy, the additional jobs across Maine would be enough to fill several mills." 

    In the wake of the creation of a landmark consensus on a solar bill that would create 800 jobs, save all ratepayers money, and move Maine out of last place in the region for solar, Governor LePage and his allies have presented amendments that could wipe out Maine’s solar industry. If the governor’s attack is successful, Maine’s solar industry could lose as many jobs as the 214 that will be lost when the Madison mill closes, which was just announced March 14, 2016.  

    "Maine's Legislature has an opportunity to support a bill that will result in the growth of jobs in Maine-based companies – companies already established in the state, companies that are owned by Mainers, will stay in Maine, and keep their employees in Maine,” said Sam Zuckerman, owner of Maine Solar Solutions of Durham

    The proposed bill would reduce energy costs for all electricity customers, create 800 good jobs across the state, and remove barriers that now prevent towns, businesses, and urban-dwellers from installing solar arrays.

    "The solar policies in Massachusetts and New Hampshire have helped generate many jobs,” said Harry Pollard IV, owner of True Enterprises of York. “Maine has the opportunity and needs to take advantage of the large potential job growth here.”

    LD 1649 does not contain subsidies, rebates, or discounts for solar. Instead, it modernizes parts of Maine’s utility policy that have unfairly created barriers to towns, cities, businesses, and communities going solar, and ensures solar producers are reimbursed fairly for the power they produce and sell to the electric grid. Failure to pass solar legislation this year will leave the LePage-appointed Maine Public Utilities Commission to consider changes to net-metering, and it is widely believed they intend to weaken or halt the program, a change that puts the existing industry at grave risk.

    "Governor LePage and his supporters are putting ideology ahead of the interests of Mainers,” said Woodruff. “At a time when our communities are losing jobs by the hundreds, the governor is ignoring the huge economic benefits of this bill and putting the livelihoods of more than 300 Mainers at risk."

    The solar bill (LD 1649, An Act to Modernize Maine’s Solar Power Policy and Encourage Economic Development), was the result of stakeholders working together over many months, including Maine’s Public Advocate (who looks out for ratepayer interests) and representatives from Maine’s solar industry, utility companies, municipalities, Maine conservation groups, and legislators, including Democratic Representatives Sara Gideon and Marty Grohman and Republican Representative Nathan Wadsworth.

    “LD 1649 has the potential to add an additional 800 new, good-paying jobs across the state,” said Chuck Piper, co-owner of Sundog Solar of Searsport. “One of the many great things about the solar bill is we can create these new jobs without any additional expense to the citizens of Maine. We feel this bill presents a great opportunity to Maine residents.”

    On March 16, the Energy, Utilities, and Technology Committee hosted a mobbed hearing, with two full overflow rooms. More than 70 Mainers got a chance to testify in support of the bill, and only two representatives of Governor LePage spoke in opposition. 

    On March 29, 2016 the committee voted on party lines to pass the bill. With the support of House Republican leader Representative Fredette, Representative Wadsworth pushed an amendment that replaces the entire bill and calls on the PUC to consider changes to net-metering.

    The amendment does not prevent the PUC from weakening net-metering, which they are poised to do if no bill is passed. A second surprise Republican amendment resembles proposals from LePage’s energy director, Patrick Woodcock, and would also take Maine backwards on solar.

    Representatives Wadsworth and Fredette have expressed concerns about ratepayer costs and claimed their amendment intends to “protect net-metering.” However analysis from the Public Utilities Commission and the Office of the Public Advocate shows clearly that continued net-metering will cost ratepayers roughly $10 million/year MORE than passage of LD 1649.

    Maine lags far behind other Northeast states on solar installations and jobs, and the governor’s legislative allies are supporting a measure that would make Maine’s sad situation even worse.

    Solar workers from across Maine discussed the current business climate for solar in Maine and the impacts of this bill on jobs, Maine’s economy, electric rates, and the state’s electrical infrastructure.

  • Maine makes $2,625,735 from Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative’s 31st auction


    Proceeds to date for the state are over $77 million

    By Ramona du Houx

    Maine brought in $2,625,735 from the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI), 31st auction of carbon dioxide (CO2) allowances. RGGI is the nation’s first market-based regulatory program to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) pollution.

    The program, initiated in Maine by Governor John Baldacci, has brought in $77,301,179.35 to the state for weatherization and alternative energy projects, for businesses and homes.

    “RGGI is working. It is helping Mainers reduce our energy bills and reduce emissions. It is a win-win and a model for the entire nation," said Former State Representative Seth Berry, who sat on Maine’s legislative committee that approved the final RGGI rules.

    14,838,732 CO2 allowances were sold at the auction at a clearing price of $5.25. Bids for the CO2 allowances ranged from $2.10 to $10.46 per allowance.

    Cumulative proceeds from all RGGI CO2 allowance auctions, for all nine states participating, exceed $2.4 billion dollars. The March 9th auction was the first auction of 2016, and generated $77.9 million for reinvestment in strategic programs, including energy efficiency, renewable energy, direct bill assistance, and GHG abatement programs.

    “With the first auction of 2016, the RGGI states build on a seven-year track record of successfully working together to reduce harmful carbon pollution from the power sector,” said Katie Dykes, Deputy Commissioner at  the Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection, and Chair of the RGGI, Inc. Board of Directors. “Our 2016 Program Review is moving ahead, and with input from stakeholders and experts we look forward to continuing to improve our trailblazing program.”

  • Solar power industry has over 400 workers - we need to keep them

    Editorial by George Smith 

    Let it shine, let it shine, let it shine. Yes, the sun will shine, and set us free — from the fossil fuels that are ruining our climate and planet and taking far too much of our income.

    We get more sunshine than Germany, which has developed solar power all over the country, leading the world to a better place. And it’s time for Maine to take the lead in this country. Maine — Life the way it should be. The way it must be.

    We can only hope that our political leaders get this right. In Augusta, they are approaching a decision on solar power that will define our future. Maine utilities are demanding that we be limited to large-scale solar-energy projects feeding substantial amounts of power into the electric grid. Our innovative solar power companies hope to continue building on the system that allows smaller installations on homes, businesses and shared community sites.

    Well, I say let’s do both. And to encourage the smaller installations, we must maintain the net metering system that was explained this way in a recent news story by Tux Turkel: “Through net metering, Maine utilities currently provide a one-to-one credit to customers on their bills for power they generate and feed back into the grid. The practice essentially means that customers with solar panels pay only for the ‘net’ amount of electricity they buy each month, that is, what they consume minus what they generate. Homeowners who generate more electricity than they consume receive a credit toward future bills.”

    Seems reasonable to me and essential to our solar power future. I understand why the big utilities want control of our solar power future. They have controlled, and profited from, our generation of energy and power for more than a century. Well, it’s time for them to share that control.

    Think of this like water. Some of us have our own supply, others buy their water from a utility. I even have the opportunity to sell my water, if I want. That same opportunity should be available to me with solar power. If the utilities get control of the sunshine and the energy it can produce, well, we’ll be in an expensive fog for another century.

    There is no question that my water, which comes from an aquifer under my property, is cheaper and better than your utility-delivered water. Likewise, my woodstove produces heat a lot more cheaply than your (or my) oil furnace — because my wood comes from my woodlot. Imagine if CMP had control of our wood supply.

    Turkel reported that this battle is also being waged in Washington, where “Sen. Angus King, I-Maine, has teamed up with Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nevada, to introduce an energy bill amendment that would protect existing rooftop solar customers from changes in their net metering rates. This federal proposal is opposed by utility and business interests, as well as a trade group representing utility commissions.”

    Well, of course it is. And thank you Angus for fighting for us on this important issue.

    Turkel also reported that Maine’s utilities argue that they should control our solar power future, because “not everyone has a house with good southern exposure, so they can’t take advantage of net metering.”

    Well, sounds like our water system, doesn’t it? Some of us can produce our own, others have to buy water from a utility. But I would be some old unhappy if I was forced to pay a utility for the water that sits in the ground under my house. Nor do I want to pay them for the sunshine that blesses my home most days of the year.

    Fortunat Mueller, a co-founder of ReVision Energy, argues, according to Turkel, that the home and small-business sector is the major market for the state’s solar installers: “The first priority of policymakers, he said, is to not hurt that market, which employs roughly 400 Mainers. He and others say that if any alternative is developed for net metering, it should run side-by-side with the existing program for a test period, to evaluate each approach.”

    Sounds very reasonable, doesn’t it?

    While we may be blessed by cheap oil and gas right now, some of which is used to generate electricity, we can’t (or certainly shouldn’t) ignore the high price our climate and planet is paying for our use of these fossil fuels. I visited those shale oil operations in North Dakota, with the excess gas being burned right before our eyes, and the number of waste disposal landfills skyrocketing, and I can tell you, that is not the future we want or need.

    So, let’s not be fooled by the current low price of oil and gas, and let’s not let the utilities continue to dominate our energy future. That future is up to us. Let’s hope our legislators understand that, and support us. Then they too will shine.

  • Energy efficiency projects funded by RGGI save Maine hospitals thousands- so they can better serve communities

    “The Aroostook Medical Center is committed to providing high quality healthcare at a reasonable cost, all while being good stewards of our environment,” said Timothy M. Doak, Facility Engineer, The Aroostook Medical Center speaking. “Efficiency Maine, utilizing RGGI funds, has been a critical partner in that endeavor." 

    On February 16, 2016 leaders of major hospitals In Bangor, Aroostook County, and Mid-Coast Maine joined together with a top commercial building efficiency expert and the head of Maine’s leading environmental group to focus on the financial benefits of hospital energy efficiency improvements that have been funded by the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI).

    “The record shows the value of RGGI to our hospitals, to our efficiency businesses, and our environment is enormous,” said Lisa Pohlmann, Executive Director, Natural Resources Council of Maine. “Today we can see the real-world energy efficiency improvements, made possible with RGGI funds, delivering major benefits to the state.” 

    The super-efficient cogeneration plant that served as a backdrop for today’s press conference reduces the amount of natural gas EMMC burns to heat its facility, as well as the amount of electricity they need to buy. RGGI has helped to fund this kind of equipment at locations around the state, including Jackson Laboratory in Bar Harbor.

    “The Aroostook Medical Center is committed to providing high quality healthcare at a reasonable cost, all while being good stewards of our environment,” said Timothy M. Doak, Facility Engineer, The Aroostook Medical Center. “Efficiency Maine, utilizing RGGI funds, has been a critical partner in that endeavor.  Our most recent project alone is reducing our electrical costs by $89,000 annually, helping us to control health care costs while also reducing greenhouse gas emissions. This is just one example of how RGGI is benefiting Maine and Mainers.”

    The control room for an efficient boiler at Eastern Maine Medical Center in Bangor demonstrated the importance of channeling RGGI funds to help hospitals and other commercial, industrial, and residential energy users invest in energy efficiency improvements. 

    “We believe that a healthy environment is critical to the health of our patients and families in our community,” said Helen McKinnon, RN, vice president, Support Services, Eastern Maine Medical Center. “Our partnerships with NRCM and Efficiency Maine have been critical to our success in enhancing our ongoing energy conservation and efficiency programs. Not only have these programs reduced our emissions and promoted a healthier environment, but they have decreased our energy costs and allowed us to focus more resources on direct patient care.”

    Not only can energy conservation reduce overall business expenses and harmful carbon pollution - it can also improve lighting conditions for a better workplace environment.

    “Our company works with hospitals and medical facilities throughout the entire state of Maine and in New Hampshire and Vermont. Our work has saved Maine hospitals millions of dollars in operating costs and substantially reduced climate-changing pollution, and we have been awarded multiple awards for energy conservation from Efficiency Maine. To continue this good work, it is extremely important that RGGI funding be available so these energy conservation projects can continue,” said Chris Green, President of Mechanical Services, a Maine corporation with over 100 employees and offices in Portland, Augusta, Bangor, and Presque Isle. 

    “Pen Bay Medical Center is committed to providing high quality, compassionate, patient-centered care to our friends and neighbors in the Midcoast,” said Louis Dinneen, Vice President of Engineering & Facilities at Pen Bay Medical Center. “We are grateful for the partnership of the Efficiency Maine Trust, whose support has allowed us to provide more reliable heating/cooling and brighter and more efficient lighting, all while significantly reducing our operating costs and overall environmental impact.”

    The importance of the Clean Power Plan - RGGI is a model

    The Clean Power Plan sets the first limits ever on carbon pollution from power plants. Power plants are the nation’s largest source of this pollution, generating 40 percent nationwide. The plan is constantly under attack from U.S. Senators in coal-producing states and their allies. The votes of Maine Senators Collins and King are crucial to preserving this much-needed plan.

    “RGGI is seen as a model for other states across the U.S., as they prepare to implement the EPA’s Clean Power Plan. Because of RGGI, Maine in a position to easily meet targets set in the Plan,” said Pohlmann.

     Independent economic analysis has revealed that RGGI has provided a net benefit to the economy of Maine and the region since it was started in 2008. Over the last three years alone, RGGI as added $122 million to the Maine State Gross Product as well as hundreds of jobs. (Analysis Group, 2015) The program has also caused a net reduction in energy costs of hundreds of millions of dollars and has dramatically lowered carbon pollution from power plants across the region. Today coal and oil provide a much lower portion of Maine’s electricity mix than they did at the start of RGGI.

    “RGGI is a shining example of how smart, innovative policies can meet our environmental, economic, and energy challenges,” said Pohlmann. “With energy efficiency projects at hospitals like these, we can see how RGGI is providing benefits that reach into our health care community as well. Maine should be proud of its approach to RGGI.”

    Just this past Novemeber over 200 nations agreed to cut back carbon emmissions in Paris at the Climate Conference. The USA was heralded as leading the way. A key component to the implementation of the Paris agreement depends on the USA's Clean Power Plan.

    Despite the success of RGGI, efforts to roll back the program pop up periodically in Augusta, while in Washington, DC, polluters have sought to repeal the Clean Power Plan before it even gets underway. Both kinds of attacks appear blind to the actual benefits of RGGI. Governor LePage has submitted legislation to slash the use of RGGI funds for energy efficiency programs for businesses such as these three hospitals. That legislation is currently in front of Maine’s Energy & Utilities committee.

    “Right now legislation under consideration in Augusta would cut RGGI funding for large energy users by 80 percent, costing Maine businesses and institutions more than $100 million in increased energy bills,” said NRCM’s Lisa Pohlmann. “NRCM supports increasing, or, at least maintaining, current funding levels for energy efficiency.

  • President Obama's full State of the Union, 2016

     PRESIDENT OBAMA:  Mr. Speaker, Mr. Vice President, members of Congress, my fellow Americans:  

    Tonight marks the eighth year that I’ve come here to report on the State of the Union.  And for this final one, I’m going to try to make it a little shorter.  (Applause.)  I know some of you are antsy to get back to Iowa.  (Laughter.)  I've been there.  I'll be shaking hands afterwards if you want some tips.  (Laughter.) 

    And I understand that because it’s an election season, expectations for what we will achieve this year are low.  But, Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the constructive approach that you and the other leaders took at the end of last year to pass a budget and make tax cuts permanent for working families.  So I hope we can work together this year on some bipartisan priorities like criminal justice reform -- (applause) -- and helping people who are battling prescription drug abuse and heroin abuse.  (Applause.)  So, who knows, we might surprise the cynics again. 

    But tonight, I want to go easy on the traditional list of proposals for the year ahead.  Don’t worry, I’ve got plenty, from helping students learn to write computer code to personalizing medical treatments for patients.  And I will keep pushing for progress on the work that I believe still needs to be done.  Fixing a broken immigration system.  (Applause.)  Protecting our kids from gun violence.  (Applause.)  Equal pay for equal work.  (Applause.)  Paid leave.  (Applause.)  Raising the minimum wage. (Applause.)  All these things still matter to hardworking families.  They’re still the right thing to do.  And I won't let up until they get done.

    But for my final address to this chamber, I don’t want to just talk about next year.  I want to focus on the next five years, the next 10 years, and beyond.  I want to focus on our future.

    We live in a time of extraordinary change -- change that’s reshaping the way we live, the way we work, our planet, our place in the world.  It’s change that promises amazing medical breakthroughs, but also economic disruptions that strain working families.  It promises education for girls in the most remote villages, but also connects terrorists plotting an ocean away.  It’s change that can broaden opportunity, or widen inequality.  And whether we like it or not, the pace of this change will only accelerate.

    America has been through big changes before -- wars and depression, the influx of new immigrants, workers fighting for a fair deal, movements to expand civil rights.  Each time, there have been those who told us to fear the future; who claimed we could slam the brakes on change; who promised to restore past glory if we just got some group or idea that was threatening America under control.  And each time, we overcame those fears.  We did not, in the words of Lincoln, adhere to the “dogmas of the quiet past.”  Instead we thought anew, and acted anew.  We made change work for us, always extending America’s promise outward, to the next frontier, to more people.  And because we did -- because we saw opportunity where others saw only peril -- we emerged stronger and better than before.

    What was true then can be true now.  Our unique strengths as a nation -- our optimism and work ethic, our spirit of discovery, our diversity, our commitment to rule of law -- these things give us everything we need to ensure prosperity and security for generations to come. 

    In fact, it’s in that spirit that we have made progress these past seven years.  That's how we recovered from the worst economic crisis in generations.  (Applause.)  That's how we reformed our health care system, and reinvented our energy sector.  (Applause.)  That's how we delivered more care and benefits to our troops coming home and our veterans.  (Applause.) That's how we secured the freedom in every state to marry the person we love.  (Applause.) 

    But such progress is not inevitable.  It’s the result of choices we make together.  And we face such choices right now.  Will we respond to the changes of our time with fear, turning inward as a nation, turning against each other as a people?  Or will we face the future with confidence in who we are, in what we stand for, in the incredible things that we can do together?

    So let’s talk about the future, and four big questions that I believe we as a country have to answer -- regardless of who the next President is, or who controls the next Congress. 

    First, how do we give everyone a fair shot at opportunity and security in this new economy?  (Applause.) 

    Second, how do we make technology work for us, and not against us -- especially when it comes to solving urgent challenges like climate change?  (Applause.) 

    Third, how do we keep America safe and lead the world without becoming its policeman?  (Applause.) 

    And finally, how can we make our politics reflect what’s best in us, and not what’s worst?

    Let me start with the economy, and a basic fact:  The United States of America, right now, has the strongest, most durable economy in the world.  (Applause.)  We’re in the middle of the longest streak of private sector job creation in history.  (Applause.)  More than 14 million new jobs, the strongest two years of job growth since the ‘90s, an unemployment rate cut in half.  Our auto industry just had its best year ever.  (Applause.)  That's just part of a manufacturing surge that's created nearly 900,000 new jobs in the past six years.  And we’ve done all this while cutting our deficits by almost three-quarters.  (Applause.) 

    Anyone claiming that America’s economy is in decline is peddling fiction.  (Applause.)  Now, what is true -- and the reason that a lot of Americans feel anxious -- is that the economy has been changing in profound ways, changes that started long before the Great Recession hit; changes that have not let up. 

    Today, technology doesn’t just replace jobs on the assembly line, but any job where work can be automated.  Companies in a global economy can locate anywhere, and they face tougher competition.  As a result, workers have less leverage for a raise.  Companies have less loyalty to their communities.  And more and more wealth and income is concentrated at the very top.

    All these trends have squeezed workers, even when they have jobs; even when the economy is growing.  It’s made it harder for a hardworking family to pull itself out of poverty, harder for young people to start their careers, tougher for workers to retire when they want to.  And although none of these trends are unique to America, they do offend our uniquely American belief that everybody who works hard should get a fair shot.

    For the past seven years, our goal has been a growing economy that works also better for everybody.  We’ve made progress.  But we need to make more.  And despite all the political arguments that we’ve had these past few years, there are actually some areas where Americans broadly agree.

    We agree that real opportunity requires every American to get the education and training they need to land a good-paying job.  The bipartisan reform of No Child Left Behind was an important start, and together, we’ve increased early childhood education, lifted high school graduation rates to new highs, boosted graduates in fields like engineering.  In the coming years, we should build on that progress, by providing Pre-K for all and -- (applause) -- offering every student the hands-on computer science and math classes that make them job-ready on day one.  We should recruit and support more great teachers for our kids.  (Applause.) 

    And we have to make college affordable for every American.  (Applause.)  No hardworking student should be stuck in the red.  We’ve already reduced student loan payments to 10 percent of a borrower’s income.  And that's good.  But now, we’ve actually got to cut the cost of college.  (Applause.)  Providing two years of community college at no cost for every responsible student is one of the best ways to do that, and I’m going to keep fighting to get that started this year.  (Applause.)  It's the right thing to do.  (Applause.) 

    But a great education isn’t all we need in this new economy. We also need benefits and protections that provide a basic measure of security.  It’s not too much of a stretch to say that some of the only people in America who are going to work the same job, in the same place, with a health and retirement package for 30 years are sitting in this chamber.  (Laughter.)  For everyone else, especially folks in their 40s and 50s, saving for retirement or bouncing back from job loss has gotten a lot tougher.  Americans understand that at some point in their careers, in this new economy, they may have to retool and they may have to retrain.  But they shouldn’t lose what they’ve already worked so hard to build in the process. 

    That’s why Social Security and Medicare are more important than ever.  We shouldn’t weaken them; we should strengthen them. (Applause.)  And for Americans short of retirement, basic benefits should be just as mobile as everything else is today.  That, by the way, is what the Affordable Care Act is all about.  It’s about filling the gaps in employer-based care so that when you lose a job, or you go back to school, or you strike out and launch that new business, you’ll still have coverage.  Nearly 18 million people have gained coverage so far.  (Applause.)  And in the process, health care inflation has slowed.  And our businesses have created jobs every single month since it became law.

    Now, I’m guessing we won’t agree on health care anytime soon.  (Applause.)  A little applause right there.  Laughter.)  Just a guess.  But there should be other ways parties can work together to improve economic security.  Say a hardworking American loses his job -- we shouldn’t just make sure that he can get unemployment insurance; we should make sure that program encourages him to retrain for a business that’s ready to hire him.  If that new job doesn’t pay as much, there should be a system of wage insurance in place so that he can still pay his bills.  And even if he’s going from job to job, he should still be able to save for retirement and take his savings with him.  That’s the way we make the new economy work better for everybody.

    I also know Speaker Ryan has talked about his interest in tackling poverty.  America is about giving everybody willing to work a chance, a hand up.  And I’d welcome a serious discussion about strategies we can all support, like expanding tax cuts for low-income workers who don't have children.  (Applause.)  

    But there are some areas where we just have to be honest -- it has been difficult to find agreement over the last seven years.  And a lot of them fall under the category of what role the government should play in making sure the system’s not rigged in favor of the wealthiest and biggest corporations.  (Applause.) And it's an honest disagreement, and the American people have a choice to make.

    I believe a thriving private sector is the lifeblood of our economy.  I think there are outdated regulations that need to be changed.  There is red tape that needs to be cut.  (Applause.)  There you go!  Yes!  (Applause  But after years now of record corporate profits, working families won’t get more opportunity or bigger paychecks just by letting big banks or big oil or hedge funds make their own rules at everybody else’s expense.  (Applause.)  Middle-class families are not going to feel more secure because we allowed attacks on collective bargaining to go unanswered.  Food Stamp recipients did not cause the financial crisis; recklessness on Wall Street did.  (Applause.)  Immigrants aren’t the principal reason wages haven’t gone up; those decisions are made in the boardrooms that all too often put quarterly earnings over long-term returns.  It’s sure not the average family watching tonight that avoids paying taxes through offshore accounts.  (Applause.)   

    The point is, I believe that in this In new economy, workers and start-ups and small businesses need more of a voice, not less.  The rules should work for them.  (Applause.)  And I'm not alone in this.  This year I plan to lift up the many businesses who’ve figured out that doing right by their workers or their customers or their communities ends up being good for their shareholders.  (Applause.)  And I want to spread those best practices across America.  That's part of a brighter future.  (Applause.) 

    In fact, it turns out many of our best corporate citizens are also our most creative.  And this brings me to the second big question we as a country have to answer:  How do we reignite that spirit of innovation to meet our biggest challenges?

    Sixty years ago, when the Russians beat us into space, we didn’t deny Sputnik was up there.  (Laughter.)  We didn’t argue about the science, or shrink our research and development budget. We built a space program almost overnight.  And 12 years later, we were walking on the moon.  (Applause.)   

    Now, that spirit of discovery is in our DNA.  America is Thomas Edison and the Wright Brothers and George Washington Carver.  America is Grace Hopper and Katherine Johnson and Sally Ride.  America is every immigrant and entrepreneur from Boston to Austin to Silicon Valley, racing to shape a better world.  (Applause.)  That's who we are. 

    And over the past seven years, we’ve nurtured that spirit.  We’ve protected an open Internet, and taken bold new steps to get more students and low-income Americans online.  (Applause.)  We’ve launched next-generation manufacturing hubs, and online tools that give an entrepreneur everything he or she needs to start a business in a single day.  But we can do so much more. 

    Last year, Vice President Biden said that with a new moonshot, America can cure cancer.  Last month, he worked with this Congress to give scientists at the National Institutes of Health the strongest resources that they’ve had in over a decade. (Applause.)  So tonight, I’m announcing a new national effort to get it done.  And because he’s gone to the mat for all of us on so many issues over the past 40 years, I’m putting Joe in charge of Mission Control.  (Applause.)  For the loved ones we’ve all lost, for the families that we can still save, let’s make America the country that cures cancer once and for all.  (Applause.) 

    Medical research is critical.  We need the same level of commitment when it comes to developing clean energy sources.  (Applause.)  Look, if anybody still wants to dispute the science around climate change, have at it.  You will be pretty lonely, because you’ll be debating our military, most of America’s business leaders, the majority of the American people, almost the entire scientific community, and 200 nations around the world who agree it’s a problem and intend to solve it.  (Applause.)   

    But even if -- even if the planet wasn’t at stake, even if 2014 wasn’t the warmest year on record -- until 2015 turned out to be even hotter -- why would we want to pass up the chance for American businesses to produce and sell the energy of the future? (Applause.) 

    Listen, seven years ago, we made the single biggest investment in clean energy in our history.  Here are the results. In fields from Iowa to Texas, wind power is now cheaper than dirtier, conventional power.  On rooftops from Arizona to New York, solar is saving Americans tens of millions of dollars a year on their energy bills, and employs more Americans than coal -- in jobs that pay better than average.  We’re taking steps to give homeowners the freedom to generate and store their own energy -- something, by the way, that environmentalists and Tea Partiers have teamed up to support.   And meanwhile, we’ve cut our imports of foreign oil by nearly 60 percent, and cut carbon pollution more than any other country on Earth.  (Applause.)  Gas under two bucks a gallon ain’t bad, either.  (Applause.) 

    Now we’ve got to accelerate the transition away from old, dirtier energy sources.  Rather than subsidize the past, we should invest in the future -- especially in communities that rely on fossil fuels.  We do them no favor when we don't show them where the trends are going.  That’s why I’m going to push to change the way we manage our oil and coal resources, so that they better reflect the costs they impose on taxpayers and our planet. And that way, we put money back into those communities, and put tens of thousands of Americans to work building a 21st century transportation system.  (Applause.) 

    Now, none of this is going to happen overnight.  And, yes, there are plenty of entrenched interests who want to protect the status quo.  But the jobs we’ll create, the money we’ll save, the planet we’ll preserve -- that is the kind of future our kids and our grandkids deserve.  And it's within our grasp. 

    Climate change is just one of many issues where our security is linked to the rest of the world.  And that’s why the third big question that we have to answer together is how to keep America safe and strong without either isolating ourselves or trying to nation-build everywhere there’s a problem.

    I told you earlier all the talk of America’s economic decline is political hot air.  Well, so is all the rhetoric you hear about our enemies getting stronger and America getting weaker.  Let me tell you something.  The United States of America is the most powerful nation on Earth.  Period. (Applause.)  Period.  It’s not even close.  It's not even close. (Applause.)  It's not even close.  We spend more on our military than the next eight nations combined.  Our troops are the finest fighting force in the history of the world.  (Applause.)  No nation attacks us directly, or our allies, because they know that’s the path to ruin.  Surveys show our standing around the world is higher than when I was elected to this office, and when it comes to every important international issue, people of the world do not look to Beijing or Moscow to lead -- they call us.  (Applause.)

    I mean, it's useful to level the set here, because when we don't, we don't make good decisions.    

    Now, as someone who begins every day with an intelligence briefing, I know this is a dangerous time.  But that’s not primarily because of some looming superpower out there, and certainly not because of diminished American strength.  In today’s world, we’re threatened less by evil empires and more by failing states. 

    The Middle East is going through a transformation that will play out for a generation, rooted in conflicts that date back millennia.  Economic headwinds are blowing in from a Chinese economy that is in significant transition.  Even as their economy severely contracts, Russia is pouring resources in to prop up Ukraine and Syria -- client states that they saw slipping away from their orbit.  And the international system we built after World War II is now struggling to keep pace with this new reality.

    It’s up to us, the United States of America, to help remake that system.  And to do that well it means that we’ve got to set priorities.

    Priority number one is protecting the American people and going after terrorist networks.  (Applause.)  Both al Qaeda and now ISIL pose a direct threat to our people, because in today’s world, even a handful of terrorists who place no value on human life, including their own, can do a lot of damage.  They use the Internet to poison the minds of individuals inside our country.  Their actions undermine and destabilize our allies.  We have to take them out.

    But as we focus on destroying ISIL, over-the-top claims that this is World War III just play into their hands.  Masses of fighters on the back of pickup trucks, twisted souls plotting in apartments or garages -- they pose an enormous danger to civilians; they have to be stopped.  But they do not threaten our national existence.  (Applause.)  That is the story ISIL wants to tell.  That’s the kind of propaganda they use to recruit.  We don’t need to build them up to show that we’re serious, and we sure don't need to push away vital allies in this fight by echoing the lie that ISIL is somehow representative of one of the world’s largest religions.  (Applause.)  We just need to call them what they are -- killers and fanatics who have to be rooted out, hunted down, and destroyed.  (Applause.)  

    And that’s exactly what we’re doing.  For more than a year, America has led a coalition of more than 60 countries to cut off ISIL’s financing, disrupt their plots, stop the flow of terrorist fighters, and stamp out their vicious ideology.  With nearly 10,000 air strikes, we’re taking out their leadership, their oil, their training camps, their weapons.  We’re training, arming, and supporting forces who are steadily reclaiming territory in Iraq and Syria. 

    If this Congress is serious about winning this war, and wants to send a message to our troops and the world, authorize the use of military force against ISIL.  Take a vote.  (Applause.)  Take a vote.  But the American people should know that with or without congressional action, ISIL will learn the same lessons as terrorists before them.  If you doubt America’s commitment -- or mine -- to see that justice is done, just ask Osama bin Laden.  (Applause.)  Ask the leader of al Qaeda in Yemen, who was taken out last year, or the perpetrator of the Benghazi attacks, who sits in a prison cell.  When you come after Americans, we go after you.  (Applause.)  And it may take time, but we have long memories, and our reach has no limits.  (Applause.)  

    Our foreign policy hast to be focused on the threat from ISIL and al Qaeda, but it can’t stop there.  For even without ISIL, even without al Qaeda, instability will continue for decades in many parts of the world -- in the Middle East, in Afghanistan, parts of Pakistan, in parts of Central America, in Africa, and Asia.  Some of these places may become safe havens for new terrorist networks.  Others will just fall victim to ethnic conflict, or famine, feeding the next wave of refugees.  The world will look to us to help solve these problems, and our answer needs to be more than tough talk or calls to carpet-bomb civilians.  That may work as a TV sound bite, but it doesn’t pass muster on the world stage.

    We also can’t try to take over and rebuild every country that falls into crisis, even if it's done with the best of intentions.  (Applause.)  That’s not leadership; that’s a recipe for quagmire, spilling American blood and treasure that ultimately will weaken us.  It’s the lesson of Vietnam; it's the lesson of Iraq -- and we should have learned it by now.  (Applause.)   

    Fortunately, there is a smarter approach, a patient and disciplined strategy that uses every element of our national power.  It says America will always act, alone if necessary, to protect our people and our allies; but on issues of global concern, we will mobilize the world to work with us, and make sure other countries pull their own weight.   

    That’s our approach to conflicts like Syria, where we’re partnering with local forces and leading international efforts to help that broken society pursue a lasting peace.

    That’s why we built a global coalition, with sanctions and principled diplomacy, to prevent a nuclear-armed Iran.  And as we speak, Iran has rolled back its nuclear program, shipped out its uranium stockpile, and the world has avoided another war.  (Applause.)   

    That’s how we stopped the spread of Ebola in West Africa.  (Applause.)  Our military, our doctors, our development workers -- they were heroic; they set up the platform that then allowed other countries to join in behind us and stamp out that epidemic. Hundreds of thousands, maybe a couple million lives were saved.

    That’s how we forged a Trans-Pacific Partnership to open markets, and protect workers and the environment, and advance American leadership in Asia.  It cuts 18,000 taxes on products made in America, which will then support more good jobs here in America.  With TPP, China does not set the rules in that region; we do.  You want to show our strength in this new century?  Approve this agreement.  Give us the tools to enforce it.  It's the right thing to do.  (Applause.)   

    Let me give you another example.  Fifty years of isolating Cuba had failed to promote democracy, and set us back in Latin America.  That’s why we restored diplomatic relations -- (applause) -- opened the door to travel and commerce, positioned ourselves to improve the lives of the Cuban people.  (Applause.) So if you want to consolidate our leadership and credibility in the hemisphere, recognize that the Cold War is over -- lift the embargo.  (Applause.)  

    The point is American leadership in the 21st century is not a choice between ignoring the rest of the world -- except when we kill terrorists -- or occupying and rebuilding whatever society is unraveling.  Leadership means a wise application of military power, and rallying the world behind causes that are right.  It means seeing our foreign assistance as a part of our national security, not something separate, not charity. 

    When we lead nearly 200 nations to the most ambitious agreement in history to fight climate change, yes, that helps vulnerable countries, but it also protects our kids.  When we help Ukraine defend its democracy, or Colombia resolve a decades-long war, that strengthens the international order we depend on. When we help African countries feed their people and care for the sick -- (applause) -- it's the right thing to do, and it prevents the next pandemic from reaching our shores.  Right now, we’re on track to end the scourge of HIV/AIDS.  That's within our grasp.  (Applause.)  And we have the chance to accomplish the same thing with malaria -- something I’ll be pushing this Congress to fund this year.  (Applause.) 

    That's American strength.  That's American leadership.  And that kind of leadership depends on the power of our example.  That’s why I will keep working to shut down the prison at Guantanamo.  (Applause.)  It is expensive, it is unnecessary, and it only serves as a recruitment brochure for our enemies.  (Applause.)  There’s a better way.  (Applause.)   

    And that’s why we need to reject any politics -- any politics -- that targets people because of race or religion.  (Applause.)  Let me just say this.  This is not a matter of political correctness.  This is a matter of understanding just what it is that makes us strong.  The world respects us not just for our arsenal; it respects us for our diversity, and our openness, and the way we respect every faith. 

    His Holiness, Pope Francis, told this body from the very spot that I'm standing on tonight that “to imitate the hatred and violence of tyrants and murderers is the best way to take their place.”  When politicians insult Muslims, whether abroad or our fellow citizens, when a mosque is vandalized, or a kid is called names, that doesn’t make us safer.  That’s not telling it like it is.  It’s just wrong.  (Applause.)  It diminishes us in the eyes of the world.  It makes it harder to achieve our goals.  It betrays who we are as a country.  (Applause.) 

    “We the People.”  Our Constitution begins with those three simple words, words we’ve come to recognize mean all the people, not just some; words that insist we rise and fall together, and that's how we might perfect our Union.  And that brings me to the fourth, and maybe the most important thing that I want to say tonight.

    The future we want -- all of us want -- opportunity and security for our families, a rising standard of living, a sustainable, peaceful planet for our kids -- all that is within our reach.  But it will only happen if we work together.  It will only happen if we can have rational, constructive debates.  It will only happen if we fix our politics.

    A better politics doesn’t mean we have to agree on everything.  This is a big country -- different regions, different attitudes, different interests.  That’s one of our strengths, too.  Our Founders distributed power between states and branches of government, and expected us to argue, just as they did, fiercely, over the size and shape of government, over commerce and foreign relations, over the meaning of liberty and the imperatives of security.

    But democracy does require basic bonds of trust between its citizens.  It doesn’t work if we think the people who disagree with us are all motivated by malice.  It doesn’t work if we think that our political opponents are unpatriotic or trying to weaken America.  Democracy grinds to a halt without a willingness to compromise, or when even basic facts are contested, or when we listen only to those who agree with us.  Our public life withers when only the most extreme voices get all the attention.  And most of all, democracy breaks down when the average person feels their voice doesn’t matter; that the system is rigged in favor of the rich or the powerful or some special interest.

    Too many Americans feel that way right now.  It’s one of the few regrets of my presidency -- that the rancor and suspicion between the parties has gotten worse instead of better.  I have no doubt a president with the gifts of Lincoln or Roosevelt might have better bridged the divide, and I guarantee I’ll keep trying to be better so long as I hold this office.

    But, my fellow Americans, this cannot be my task -- or any President’s -- alone.  There are a whole lot of folks in this chamber, good people who would like to see more cooperation, would like to see a more elevated debate in Washington, but feel trapped by the imperatives of getting elected, by the noise coming out of your base.  I know; you’ve told me.  It's the worst-kept secret in Washington.  And a lot of you aren't enjoying being trapped in that kind of rancor. 

    But that means if we want a better politics -- and I'm addressing the American people now -- if we want a better politics, it’s not enough just to change a congressman or change a senator or even change a President.  We have to change the system to reflect our better selves.  I think we've got to end the practice of drawing our congressional districts so that politicians can pick their voters, and not the other way around.  (Applause.)  Let a bipartisan group do it.  (Applause.) 

    We have to reduce the influence of money in our politics, so that a handful of families or hidden interests can’t bankroll our elections.  (Applause.)  And if our existing approach to campaign finance reform can’t pass muster in the courts, we need to work together to find a real solution -- because it's a problem.  And most of you don't like raising money.  I know; I've done it.  (Applause.)  We’ve got to make it easier to vote, not harder.  (Applause.)  We need to modernize it for the way we live now.  (Applause.)  This is America:  We want to make it easier for people to participate.  And over the course of this year, I intend to travel the country to push for reforms that do just that.

    But I can’t do these things on my own.  (Applause.)  Changes in our political process -- in not just who gets elected, but how they get elected -- that will only happen when the American people demand it.  It depends on you.  That’s what’s meant by a government of, by, and for the people. 

    What I’m suggesting is hard.  It’s a lot easier to be cynical; to accept that change is not possible, and politics is hopeless, and the problem is all the folks who are elected don't care, and to believe that our voices and actions don’t matter.  But if we give up now, then we forsake a better future.  Those with money and power will gain greater control over the decisions that could send a young soldier to war, or allow another economic disaster, or roll back the equal rights and voting rights that generations of Americans have fought, even died, to secure.  And then, as frustration grows, there will be voices urging us to fall back into our respective tribes, to scapegoat fellow citizens who don’t look like us, or pray like us, or vote like we do, or share the same background.

    We can’t afford to go down that path.  It won’t deliver the economy we want.  It will not produce the security we want.  But most of all, it contradicts everything that makes us the envy of the world. 

    So, my fellow Americans, whatever you may believe, whether you prefer one party or no party, whether you supported my agenda or fought as hard as you could against it -- our collective futures depends on your willingness to uphold your duties as a citizen.  To vote.  To speak out.  To stand up for others, especially the weak, especially the vulnerable, knowing that each of us is only here because somebody, somewhere, stood up for us. (Applause.)  We need every American to stay active in our public life -- and not just during election time -- so that our public life reflects the goodness and the decency that I see in the American people every single day. 

    It is not easy.  Our brand of democracy is hard.  But I can promise that a little over a year from now, when I no longer hold this office, I will be right there with you as a citizen, inspired by those voices of fairness and vision, of grit and good humor and kindness that helped America travel so far.  Voices that help us see ourselves not, first and foremost, as black or white, or Asian or Latino, not as gay or straight, immigrant or native born, not as Democrat or Republican, but as Americans first, bound by a common creed.  Voices Dr. King believed would have the final word -- voices of unarmed truth and unconditional love. 

    And they’re out there, those voices.  They don’t get a lot of attention; they don't seek a lot of fanfare; but they’re busy doing the work this country needs doing.  I see them everywhere I travel in this incredible country of ours.  I see you, the American people.  And in your daily acts of citizenship, I see our future unfolding.

    I see it in the worker on the assembly line who clocked extra shifts to keep his company open, and the boss who pays him higher wages instead of laying him off. 

    I see it in the Dreamer who stays up late at night to finish her science project, and the teacher who comes in early, and maybe with some extra supplies that she bought because she knows that that young girl might someday cure a disease.

    I see it in the American who served his time, and bad mistakes as a child but now is dreaming of starting over -- and I see it in the business owner who gives him that second chance.  The protester determined to prove that justice matters -- and the young cop walking the beat, treating everybody with respect, doing the brave, quiet work of keeping us safe.  (Applause.) 

    I see it in the soldier who gives almost everything to save his brothers, the nurse who tends to him till he can run a marathon, the community that lines up to cheer him on.

    It’s the son who finds the courage to come out as who he is, and the father whose love for that son overrides everything he’s been taught.  (Applause.) 

    I see it in the elderly woman who will wait in line to cast her vote as long as she has to; the new citizen who casts his vote for the first time; the volunteers at the polls who believe every vote should count -- because each of them in different ways know how much that precious right is worth.

    That's the America I know.  That’s the country we love.   Clear-eyed.  Big-hearted.  Undaunted by challenge.  Optimistic that unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word.  (Applause.)  That’s what makes me so hopeful about our future.  I believe in change because I believe in you, the American people.  

    And that’s why I stand here confident as I have ever been that the State of our Union is strong.  (Applause.) 

    Thank you.  God bless you.  God bless the United States of America. 

  • Maine’s MTI awards more than $82,000 in grants awarded to technology companies

    Photo: MTI grants helped jump-strat the University of Maine's floating off-shore wind technologies that led to the VolturnUS, which is the nation's first offshore wind power that was generated to the grid.

    By Ramona du Houx

    Maine Technology Institute (MTI), the state-backed agency that supports technology startups, has awarded more than $82,000 in grants. During the Baldacci administration grants awarded to Maine companies under MTI increased — fueling an innovation economy and helping research and development at Maine’s research facilities. 

    The University of Maine received grants to start their ocean energy programs, which have led to the creation of various companies, including Ocean Renewable Power Company. ORPC worked with researches to refine their underwater ocean energy turbine composite design. Offshore wind power for floating wind turbine platforms at the Advanced Composite Laboratories also received initial start up grants from MTI, which later led to federal grants. Now UMaine has the most advanced ocean energy research laboratories in the Americas.

    Unfortunately, under the LePage administration there has only been one voter backed bond issue to help R&D in Maine — one. The state needs more voter-approved bonds for this research, so Maine entrepreneurs can start their innovative businesses here, and thereby improve Maine’s economic future for us all.

    "Unlike the scattershot spending of many business tax credits, MTI programs are rigorously competitive, with the awards made by boards composed of peers within the same targeted business sectors," said Seth Berry, former Maine House Majority Leader and current Vice President for Business Development at Kennebec River Biosciences. "That's why in a 2014 independent evaluation, MTI's Development Loan program was found to have an ROI (return on investment) to the taxpayer of 12.4 percent —  something any businessperson recognizes as a success. Just imagine if we could grow Maine's overall economy at that rate!"

    Kennebec River Biosciences Inc., of Richmond won a  $20,000 Business Accelerator Grant, and has matching funds of $24,560.

    All these grants need private matching funds, which are expected to total more than $101,000. These TechStart Grants are awarded to companies or entrepreneurs seeking to develop their ideas into new innovative products or services.

     The most recent recipients are:

    • Farmer Brown Organics of Presque Isle, $5,000 (match, $6,076);

    • Heatek Energy of Auburn, $2,050 (match, $5,300);

    • Limbeck Engineering of Freeport, $2,000 (match, $2,035);

    • Q-Team Inc. of Naples, $5,000 (match, $13,000).

    MTI also awarded Business Accelerator Grants to three companies. The grants are intended to help the companies enhance their competitiveness, develop products and internal business systems, and apply for federal money.

    They are:

    • Cerahelix Inc. of Orono, $15,000 (match, $16,376);

    • Kennebec River Biosciences Inc. of Richmond, $20,000 (match, $24,560);

    • Municipay of Scarborough, $28,723 (match, $28,723).

    Also, a Phase 0 Kickstarter Grant of $4,990 was awarded to Alba-Technic of Winthrop to help it seek small business research grants from the federal government. The company provided a match of $5,000.

    The next round of grant applications closes on Feb. 2, 2016.

  • Federal Residential Renewable Tax Credit

    On December 15, 2015, the US Congress approved an extension of the Residential Renewable Tax Credit, originally set to expire at the end of 2016, for another five years. That five years gives alternative energy companies confidence to grow and invest.

    The tax credit enables homeowners and small businesses to claim 30 percent of the cost of solar, small wind, fuel cell and geothermal systems against their taxes. 

    Read more about the tax credit from the US Department of Energy

  • 133rd's energy efficient readiness center at Brunswick Landing-grows blueberries

    The new, LEED Silver readiness center for the 133rd Engineering Battalion of the Maine National Guard at Brunswick Landing opened in September 2015. Following new National Guard regulations to build energy efficiency and renewable energy into all new projects, the $23.5 million building boasts 38 KW of solar capacity, geothermal heating wells, LED lighting and a living roof growing blueberries.

  • Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative leads way in USA for carbon reduction to meet Paris protocol - a model example

    At the Paris Climate Change Conference over 350 state and local elected officials, representing every state, launched a sign on letter calling for 50 percent clean energy by 2030, and 100 percent clean energy by 2050. More elected officials are expected to sign on the letter in the coming days.

    A number of current and former elected officials organized the “elected official’s letter” initiative including former Maine State Representative Alex Cornell du Houx, former Councilor and Deputy Town Supervisor Town of Caroline, New York, Dominic Frongillo, and California East Bay Municipal Utility District Director Andy Katz.

    “We organized this initiative to highlight the important work state and local governments are doing to promote clean energy and reduce carbon pollution, despite many members of Congress who lack the leadership to protect our families and communities,” said Cornell du Houx.

    Over 17 elected officials from Maine signed the letter, including Portland City Councilor Jon Hinck. When Hinck was a member of the Maine state legislature he worked tirelessly on clean energy initiatives. He helped with the law that made Maine part of the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative leads (RGGI). The RGGI, America’s first cap-n-trade agreement, has earned the state over $74 million that has been invested in clean energy initiatives. The legislation had a unanimous vote for implementation during the Baldacci administration.

    “The RGGI gives Northeast States a start in the worldwide effort to increase efficiency and meet power demand without fueling climate change,” said Hinck.

    The transition to renewable energy sources creates jobs and opportunities.

    Farmington’s new Medical Arts Center at Franklin Community Health Network’s is saving energy while delivering critical medical care, in a large part, because of $59,532 in incentives from RGGI funds awarded by the state’s Efficiency Maine — the agency that channels RGGI earnings to clean energy projects.

    RGGI estimates a return of more than $2.9 billion in lifetime energy bill savings to more than 3.7 million participating households, and 17,800 businesses. California's Cap-and-Trade Program, which started in 2012, generated $969 million in revenue for the state through the end of 2014. It is expected to generate $2 billion a year or more in the future.

    The RGGI states have experienced over a 40 percent reduction in power sector carbon pollution since 2005, while the regional economy has grown eight percent. “This proves that we can reduce pollution that’s putting our communities’ health at risk while growing jobs and prosperity. From East Coast to West Coast — states and local communities are leading the way,” said Katz.

    PHOTO: Former State Representative Alex Cornell du Houx speaking at the Paris summit.

    California, the world’s 7th largest economy, recently passed legislation to achieve 50 percent clean energy by 2030, and has started down that road with their own form of RGGI.

    “California’s example shows that climate action can be an engine for broadly shared economic prosperity,” said California Senator President Pro Tempore Kevin De León, at the “elected official’s letter” Paris press conference on December 8th. “By promoting the development of clean energy resources, we are simultaneously reducing greenhouse gas emissions, improving air quality, and creating jobs that can lift families out of poverty. If Congress won’t act, it’s incumbent on state and local leaders to do the job for them.”

    When Congress has been gridlocked over how to combat climate change local communities have taken on the challenge.

    This year, the United States has hit many clean energy milestones. America has added more clean power than natural gas, with clean energy generation up 11 percent while natural gas generation declined. During this time, jobs in the solar power industry grew 20 times faster than the rest of the economy.

    "We want the rest of the world to know that the climate-denying, anti-science voices in Congress do not represent America,” said Nick Rathod, Executive Director of the State Innovation Exchange. “Innovations at the state level often drive our national policy forward and that is exactly what is happening in the fight against climate change. States are leading the way."

    With the historic treaty to reduce carbon emissions worldwide that was reached in Paris on December 12, 2015 more clean energy projects need to be implemented.

    “Now we really have to step up the effort and meet the challenge,” said Hinck.

    The “elected official’s letter” initiative also supports the implementation of President Obama's Clean Power Plan, as it will bring the U.S. within seven percent of the stated goal.

    “We appreciate the administration’s leadership and commitment to working with state and local government,” said Cornell du Houx. “This letter is only the beginning. We will be working with state and local elected officials across America to ensure a healthier and safer future for our children. As leaders responsible for America’s present and future prosperity, we must take action now.”

  • Leaders of nearly 50 Maine businesses urge Collins, King to defend EPA Clean Power Plan

     

    RGGI, America’s first cap-n-trade agreement, has earned the state over $74 million

     By Ramona du Houx

    On December 16, 2015, clean energy business leaders gathered in Portland at a solar panel company, ReVision Energy, to release a letter that urges Maine Senators Susan Collins and Angus King to continue their support for the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) finalized Clean Power Plan. If passed the plan will be the biggest national action yet to cut carbon pollution from power plants — power plants are the largest source of this climate-changing pollution in the nation. 

    The plan, in many ways, is modeled after the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI), America’s first cap-n-trade agreement, which has earned the Maine over $74 million that has been invested in clean energy and weatherization initiatives.

    “Maine people and businesses expect their Congressional leaders to stand up for Maine’s interests, and not be beholden the ideologies and rhetoric from out-of-state corporate polluters,” said Margaret Hoyt of the Natural Resources Council of Maine. “We’re pleased to see that leadership from Collins and King.”

    The letter emphasizes the importance of both Senators’ to continue their support as corporate polluters with vested interests in coal and oil, along with their political allies from other regions, repeatedly try to block the plan in Congress.

    “Nine years ago, Evergreen Home Performance looked at Maine’s combination of old houses, high oil dependence and natural resources and saw a business opportunity,” said Evergreen Home Performance founder Richard Burbank. “Since then, we’ve transformed hundreds of Maine houses from energy hogs to comfortable, efficient, worry-free homes, giving homeowners a nice buffer against volatile fuel prices, and employed highly trained workers.”

     Maine is expected to meet its Clean Power Plan requirements by continuing participation in the RGGI which limits pollution and generates funds through quarterly auctions of carbon credits.

    When Portland City Councilor Jon Hinck was a member of the Maine state legislature he worked tirelessly on clean energy initiatives. He helped with the law that made Maine part of RGGI. The legislation had a unanimous vote for implementation during the Baldacci administration. “The RGGI gives Northeast States a start in the worldwide effort to increase efficiency and meet power demand without fueling climate change,” said Hinck.

    The transition to renewable energy sources creates jobs and opportunities and RGGI helps.

     Farmington’s new Medical Arts Center at Franklin Community Health Network’s is saving energy while delivering critical medical care, in a large part, because of $59,532 in incentives from RGGI funds awarded by the state’s Efficiency Maine — the agency that channels RGGI earnings to clean energy projects.

    RGGI estimates a return of more than $2.9 billion in lifetime energy bill savings to more than 3.7 million participating households, and 17,800 businesses. The RGGI states have experienced over a 40 percent reduction in power sector carbon pollution since 2005, while the regional economy has grown eight percent.

    “We do about 100 home energy savings projects every year, and we are always happy to make homeowners more comfortable in their homes,” said Josh Wojcik, founder of the family-owned Upright Frameworks. “Thanks to RGGI, incentives are available to homeowners for this work. It’s great that RGGI sets Maine on the right course to meet the Clean Power Plan, too.”

    Through RGGI, Maine’s overall economy has grown and energy costs have been reduced.

    At the latest RGGI auction, on December 2, carbon credits brought in $4.2 million, primarily for Efficiency Maine to invest in energy improvements for Maine homes and businesses. Efficiency Maine’s annual report, released November 30, shows that RGGI provided almost all of the funds to help homes and large businesses and industry reduce oil and other heating fuel costs. According to that report, in the year ending June 30, 2015, the Home Energy Savings Program yielded $43 million in lifetime home energy savings for nearly 10,000 homes, supporting hundreds of jobs in the clean energy sector at the same time.

    However, Congressman Bruce Poliquin voted in favor of the Clean Power Plan repeal. His statements indicated he doesn’t understand or appreciate the fact that independent economists have shown that RGGI has created hundreds of jobs in Maine including a $215 million net benefit to Maine’s economy, and a boon to our environment.

    “Power plants should not be given unlimited license to treat our sky like an open sewer,” said Phil Coupe, co-founder of ReVision Energy. “The Clean Power Plan sets basic parameters to limit carbon pollution in the same way that there are limits on other pollutants like arsenic and mercury.”

    Climate change poses a serious threat to Maine’s economy, environment, and quality of life. Air pollution carried downwind from dirty power plants harms Mainers’ health and increases cases of asthma, cancer and heart disease. Warmer temperatures increase the number of vector-borne diseases in Maine, specifically causing Lyme disease, carried by deer ticks, to skyrocket.

    Climate change also threatens Maine’s nature-based industries like farming, winter guiding, fishing, and skiing, by increasing the severity and frequency of storms and making weather patterns less predictable. In addition, warmer and more acidic oceans threaten the long-term viability of lobsters and other marine fisheries, jeopardizing the culture and economy of Maine’s coastal communities.

    “Maine business leaders are already seeing how climate change threatens Maine’s economy, environment, and way of life, and they are already building a cleaner, more efficient economy,” said Hoyt. “Now, the Clean Power Plan will guarantee the rest of the nation follows New England’s lead with power plant carbon limits as strong as ours. Maine’s Clean Energy businesses support these common-sense proposals because they create enormous economic opportunities as we transition to cleaner, more efficient energy solutions.”

     So far, the letter has been signed by 46 Maine clean energy businesses, including Reed & Reed president and CEO Jack Parker, Evergreen Home Performance co-owners Elise Brown and Richard Burbank, Solaris owner Suzan Elichaa, ReVision Energy co-founder Phil Coupe, Penobscot Home Performance founder Matt Damon, Upright Framework founder Josh Wojcik, Vice President for State Policy at SunEdision, and Goggin Energy founder and owner Ann Goggin.

    In the run up to the global climate talks in Paris, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Kentucky) pushed through a bill that would repeal the plan, in part to weaken the U.S. position in any climate deal. Collins and King voted against the repeal bill, helping ensure it lacks the votes necessary to override President Obama’s veto.

    Since the Paris worldwide agreement of 195 nations to limit carbon emissions happened on December12, 2015, Congress approved an extension for a research and development tax break and extends the Production Tax Credit (PTC) for clean energy projects by five years.

    "Getting a five-year PTC extension in this bill was important for clean energy companies in Maine and around the country," said Congresswoman Chellie Pingree.  "Before this, companies didn't know from one year to the next whether this tax break was going to be on the books.  That makes it very hard to plan the clean energy projects that have created thousands of jobs already in our state." 

    However, over the coming months, there are likely to be additional attempts by McConnell and his allies to repeal or block the Clean Power Plan. They rejected the Paris treaty, agreeing with 3 percent of so-called scientists that global warming isn't happening.

    The Clean Power Plan is an essential part of the commitment the U.S. made in Paris.

  • Maine's first Tesla Motor charging station opens in Augusta

    Tesla Motors has opened a supercharging station for its line of upscale all-electric vehicles at the Marketplace at Augusta mall. The station will be the most northern of Tesla's network of charging stations placed along the Interstate 95 corridor.

    Spokeswoman Sonja Knoch said the Augusta site will allow Tesla Model S owners to "have free seamless travel into upstate Maine, New England, eastern Canada, and routes leading cross country."

    Maine has just 32 Tesla owners. One Adam Lee of Lee Auto Malls. A Tesla S sells for between $70,000 and $120,000.

    Officials say 30 minutes of charging at a station allows up to 170 miles of range in Model S vehicles. Tesla has over 500 supercharger stations worldwide.

    Tesla's founder is also in the process of opening the world largest battery manufactuing plant in California. These specialized batteries will store electricity generated from alternative energy sources, mainly solar.

  • Citizens, workers, businesses, and others urge adoption of strong solar policy for Maine

    Maine is falling behind on solar power and jobs 

    By Ramona du Houx

    A diverse group of over 70 people and organizations gathered on December 10th at the Maine Public Utilities Commission (PUC) to urge policymakers to develop and adopt a comprehensive solar policy that can move Maine out of last place in the region for solar power and solar jobs. Since September, the PUC has been holding a series of stakeholder meetings to develop and evaluate solar policy concepts and it plans to issue a report to lawmakers in the coming legislative session.

    “Solar power is creating huge opportunities for job creation across the region and across the country,” said Nick Paquet, an electrician with the IBEW union. “Every megawatt of solar power means 20 electricians put to work. Maine has made good strides toward renewable energy and renewable energy jobs, but we’re woefully behind on solar. That should change if we are serious about providing more good quality jobs for Mainers.”

    Maine’s lack of a comprehensive solar policy is hurting our economy and environment and leaves the state missing out on the full benefits of solar to lower energy costs. Recent analysis has shown that solar power in Maine can reduce electricity costs for everyone because it operates during peak hours and is typically located close to where power is consumed.

    In 2005, Governor John Baldacci established Maine's first solar rebate program. However, funds have since run out for the inititive and Governor Paul LePage has not had the wisdom to continue the program. While the Baldacci adminstration led to bipartisan agreements, like the Regional Greenhouse Gas Inititive (RGGI) and others,  progressing clean energy technologies in Maine, the LePage administration is in climate change denial. (photo of Governor Baldacci at the kick-start of his rebate program. photo by Ramona du Houx)

    “Like most people, I had gotten used to just paying my electric bill every month and didn’t know that I had any choice over price or how that electricity is generated,” said Portland resident Elissa Armstrong. “Recently, my husband and I have invested in solar panels on our house and also in a community solar project. It is a great relief to keep our energy dollars here in Maine, where the sun shines. Now that solar has come down in price, there is a tremendous opportunity for nearly all Mainers to make an upfront investment to get off the expensive dependence on power from away.”

    Solar technology and markets have exploded over the last few years as prices have fallen dramatically—nearly 75 percent in the last five years. In the last three years alone, the U.S. has installed roughly 15,000 MW of solar capacity – as much as fifteen nuclear power plants. In 2014, there were 186,000 new residential solar systems installed. (GTM Market Insights, 2014)

    “Because Maine is one of the few states that lacks pro-solar policies, Maine families and businesses are missing out on the enormous economic and environmental benefits of advanced solar energy technology,” said Glen Brand, Sierra Club Maine Chapter Director. “It’s time for our state to move forward with a solar policy that builds upon what’s working to reduce pollution, create good jobs, and lower and stabilize energy costs, while helping Mainers to become more energy secure and independent.”

    However, at the start of 2015, Maine had the lowest amount of solar installed per capita in the region, and the lowest number of solar jobs per capita. In the first half of this year, Maine’s newly installed solar placed it among the bottom 15 of the fifty states, while every other state in the Northeast was in the top twenty-six. (GTM Market Insights, 2015-Q2)

    The Maine Legislature has failed to pass any substantive solar policy in the past three sessions, in large part due to opposition from the governor or utilities. Last year the Legislature had to override the governor’s veto to develop an analysis of the value of solar for Maine ratepayers. That analysis by the PUC surprised many by showing that solar power actually lowers prices for all ratepayers by bringing down the cost of transmission lines and reducing the use of the most expensive power plants during the summer.

    Earlier this year the Legislature overrode the governor’s veto of a Resolve that directed the PUC to conduct a stakeholder process and seek consensus on a significant new solar policy—a process that was supported by solar advocates and utilities alike.

    “Although there are many issues are not yet resolved, these PUC meetings have been extremely constructive,” said Dylan Voorhees, Clean Energy Director for the Natural Resources Council of Maine. “As we look to the upcoming session, lawmakers will need to show leadership to put an effective solar policy into law that will get Maine out of last place on solar. It is clear that three is overwhelming support for solar, here in Maine.”

    Despite the lack of a clear solar policy, Mainers are increasingly investing in solar power for their homes, businesses, and communities. Most are taking advantage of Maine’s net-metering rules. Net-metering allows customers to get bill credits for solar production that can be used to offset the cost of power they consume from the grid. Although it does not work as well for larger solar installations, net-metering makes it easier for residential customers to install solar. Therefore solar supporters said that net-metering should stay in place as new alternatives are explored and evaluated.

    Opportunities for Solar farms to power towns and communities-

    Photo: The Freeport community solar farm being built by ReVison Energy.

    “The electricity bill for the City of Rockland costs taxpayers over $400,000/year in taxes and fees,” said Rockland City Councilor Larry Pritchett. “Across Maine, towns and cities own 1,800 acres of capped landfills that could be excellent sites for developing solar farms to generate power for cities and schools, or for community solar farms to provide power to local residents and businesses. Many of these could be excellent sites for developing solar farms to generate power for city. Despite many solar landfills in other states, Maine’s outdated rate structures, and lack of solar policy, make it almost impossible for towns to recoup the cost of solar investment and achieve the tremendous benefits for our citizens that solar can offer.”

    The diverse group of solar supporters did said they are looking for a solar policy that:

    • Increases the amount of solar installed in Maine, increasing renewable energy generation and stability for more solar jobs. (The PUC has determined that the status quo is likely to yield 100-150 MW of solar by 2021.)          
    • Treats solar homeowners and businesses fairly—protecting their ability to generate their own power and recognizing the value of the solar they provide to the grid—while providing a clear benefit for other ratepayers.
    • Works well for solar customers of all sorts and sizes, from homeowners to large businesses, and from community solar to grid-scale solar farms.

    “Maine congregations are starting to look more at solar power, for their church buildings and with their members,” said Reverend Carrie Johnson, the minister of the Unitarian Universalist Community Church of Augusta. “Solar is an important part of our response to the threat of climate change, which people of faith are deeply concerned about. It is also a way for individuals and communities—including congregations—to take direct action to reduce our own dependence on fossil fuels. With state policy as a partner, there is tremendous opportunity for us to work together for a solar future for Maine.”

  • Nations agree to curb climate change with historic Paris draft agreement

    By Ramona du Houx

    Negotiations went through the night to come up with an agreement in Paris, France, to curb climate change amoungst over 191 nations. On December 12, 2015 the draft treaty was reached.  Phone calls between the US President Barack Obama, and his Chinese counterpart, Xi Jinping, and appeals from the French Priminister Hollande and the UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, all helped to push countries towards agreeing to the final draft.

    In the pact would commit countries to keeping the rise in global temperatures by the year 2100 compared with pre-industrial times "well below" 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit) and "endeavor to limit" them even more, to 1.5 degrees Celsius. 

    Critically, countries would also be committed to limiting the amount of greenhouse gases emitted by human activity to the same levels that trees, soil and oceans can absorb naturally, beginning at some point between 2050 and 2100.

    Read the draft agreement HERE.

    The full plenary session still requires an unanimous agreement from all contries. This is set to take place on Saturday afternoon and evening. Objections at this stage could still disrupt a final deal.

    Ban Ki-moon urged countries to agree the deal, “We have come to a final moment of a journey that has been going on for decades. The end now is in sight. Let us now finish the job. We must protect the planet that sustains us. Billions of people are relying on your wisdom."

    Photo: Alex Cornell du Houx, a former state Rep. from Maine, is in Paris as a leader of lawmakers from everystate that are demanding action on climate change. The coalition he represents have a sign up letter for current lawmakers that bypasses Congress for clean energy action. See more here.

  • State lawmakers bypass Congress to support 50 percent clean energy by 2030 at Paris Climate Conference

    Kibby wind farm’s community ribbon cutting in Maine’s Western Mts – the farm helps cut carbon pollution while supplying clean energy. Maine, as a part of RGGI, and has helped to lead the battle against carbon pollution. Photo by Ramona du Houx

     By Ramona du Houx

    Over 350 state and local elected officials, representing every state, launched a sign on letter calling for 50 percent clean energy by 2030, and 100 percent clean energy by 2050, at the Paris Climate Conference. More elected officals are expected to sign on the letter in the coming days.

    “California’s example shows that climate action can be an engine for broadly shared economic prosperity,” ​said California Senator President Pro Tempore Kevin De León, as he announced the initiative. ​“By promoting the development of clean energy resources, we are simultaneously reducing greenhouse gas emissions, improving air quality, and creating jobs that can lift families out of poverty. If Congress won’t act, it’s incumbent on state and local leaders to do the job for them.”

    Former Maine State Representative Alex Cornell du Houx, Des Moines, Iowa Mayor Frank Cownie, and Falcon Heights Minnesota Council member Beth Mercer-Taylor speak at an international press conference promoting 50 percent clean energy by 2030 and 100 percent clean energy by 2050 at the Paris Climate Conference.

    California, the world’s 7​th largest economy, recently passed legislation to achieve 50 percent clean energy by 2030.

    A number of current and former elected officials organized the initiative including former Maine State Representative Alex Cornell du Houx, former Councilor and Deputy Town Supervisor Town of Caroline, New York, Dominic Frongillo, and California East Bay Municipal Utility District Director Andy Katz.

    “We organized this initiative to highlight the important work state and local governments are doing to promote clean energy and reduce carbon pollution, despite many members of Congress who lack the leadership to protect our families and communities,” ​said Cornell du Houx.​

    The announcement focused on the success state and local governments have been achieving in clean energy innovation and implementation.

    "We want the rest of the world to know that the climate-denying, anti-science voices in Congress do not represent America,” s​aid Nick Rathod​, Executive Director of the State Innovation Exchange. Innovations at the state level often drive our national policy forward and that is exactly what is happening in the fight against climate change. States are leading the way."

    Maine, as a member of the New England Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI), has made great strides combating climate change, and RGGI has earned the state over $70million that has been invested in clean energy initiatives.

    Farmington’s new Medical Arts Center at Franklin Community Health Network’s is saving energy while delivering critical medical care, in a large part, because of $59,532 in incentives from RGGI funds awarded by the state’s Efficiency Maine- established during the Baldacci administration. 

    RGGI estimates a return of more than​ $2.9 billion​ in lifetime energy bill savings to more than 3.7 million participating households, and 17,800 businesses. California's Cap-and-Trade Program, which started in 2012, generated $969 million in revenue ​for the state through the end of 2014. It is expected to generate $2 billion a year or more in the future.

    The RGGI states have experienced over a 40 percent reduction in power sector carbon pollution since 2005, while the regional economy has grown eight percent. “This proves that we can reduce pollution that’s putting our communities’ health at risk while growing jobs and prosperity. From East Coast to West Coast — states and local communities are leading the way,” said Katz.

    This year, the United States has hit many clean energy milestones. America has added more clean power than ​natural ​gas, with clean energy generation up​ 11 percent​ while natural gas generation declined. During this time, jobs​ in the solar power industry grew 20 times faster than the rest of the economy.

    The transition to renewables creates jobs and opportunities.

    “Our region used to be coal country, and now is powered by 40 percent wind. That's the future that cities and states are creating,” s​aid Des Moines, IA Mayor Frank Cownie. “Where there used to be 23 coal mines 100 years ago in and around the city, now we are building a green space corridor and new industries. It's time for cities, states, the United States and the world to aggressively commit to creating a better, clean energy future."

    California East Bay Municipal Utility District Director Andy Katz, California Senator President Pro Tempore Kevin De León, West Palm Beach, FL Mayor Jeri Muoio, and Des Moines, IA Mayor Frank Cownie speak at an international press conference promoting 50 percent clean energy by 2030 and 100 percent clean energy by 2050 at the Paris Climate Conference. 

    When Congress has been gridlocked over how to combat climate change local communities have taken on the challenge.

    “Cities and states are on the front lines of climate change. As sea levels rise, our city is in danger,” ​said West Palm Beach, FL Mayor Jeri Muoio​. “To protect our future, and lead by example, we have made a commitment to power all our city vehicles without fossil fuels.”

    People in every state are beginning to understand that too many members of Congress are trying to obstruct the President’s clean energy initiatives. 

    “The political will to act on climate change exists in every state, and community. But it has been drowned out with millions of dollars dirty energy companies spend sowing doubt and denial. Right now, Exxon-Mobil is under investigation for misleading shareholders, and the American people,” ​said Frongillo​. “We need elected officials to lead a fair and swift transition to 100 percent clean energy.”

    Climate change has been at the root of many conflicts around the world. Sometimes, civil unrest breaks out, which too often has led to war.

    “A recent ​Pew study ​found ISIL , or Daesh, and climate change are seen as the top two global threats — and the two are interlinked. As a former Marine and now naval officer, I have seen this link firsthand. Instability caused by extreme weather helps terrorists like Daesh recruit fighters — Syria’s unusually​ severe drought​ helped trigger that conflict, ”said Cornell du Houx.​ ​“We need to protect our nation, and the world, from the real threats caused by climate change.”

    The initiative also supports the implementation of President Obama's Clean Power Plan, as it will bring the U.S. within seven percent of the stated goal.

    “We appreciate the administration’s leadership and commitment to working with state and local government,” said Cornell du Houx.​ “The launch of this letter is only the beginning. We will be working with state and local elected officials across America to ensure a healthier and safer future for our children. As leaders responsible for America’s present and future prosperity, we must take action now.”

    So far, in Maine, these elected officials have signed on to the letter. More are expected to sign, soon:

     David Miramant, State Senator, ME

    Ryan Tipping-Spitz, State Representative, ME

    Roberta Beavers, State Representative, ME

     Margaret Rotundo, State Representative, ME

     Michael Devin, State Representative, ME

     Brian Hubbell, State Representative, ME

    Deane Rykerson, State Representative, ME

    Pinny Beebe-Center, State Representative, ME

    James Davitt, State Representative, ME

     Richard Farnsworth, State Representative, ME

     Joyce McCreight, State Representative, ME

     Chuck Kruger, State Representative, ME

     Christine Burstein, State Representative, ME 

    Anne-Marie Mastraccio, State Representative, ME

     Linda Sanborn, State Representative, ME

     Denise Tepler, State Representative, ME

     The letter:

    Dear President Obama:

    We, the undersigned local and state elected officials, strongly support the goal to achieve more than 50 percent clean energy by 2030, putting us on the path to 100 percent clean energy sources by 2050.

    This is a necessary and achievable goal. With the implementation of the Clean Power Plan, the EPA estimates that the United States will increase our current generation of clean energy by 30 percent. This means we are already on track to generate 43 percent clean energy by 2030 by effectively implementing the Obama Administration’s policies. We appreciate the administration’s leadership supporting clean energy—and with additional leadership at the federal, state, and local levels, our country will successfully reach the 50 percent by 2030 goal.

    Clean energy is an American success story. It is one of the fastest growing economic sectors in the United States and already provides 360,000 jobs. The solar industry alone employs 143,000 people—more individuals than work in coal mines—and grew 20 percent in 2014. Last year a new solar project was installed every 2.5 minutes.

    Transitioning to clean energy isn’t just the smart choice for growing our economy—it keeps our families healthy. According to the American Lung Association, almost half of Americans live in places where pollution levels are too often dangerous to breathe. By transitioning to clean energy, we can clear the air and reduce the health risks of pollution.

    The time to act is now. Fourteen of the 15 warmest years on record have all occurred since 2000, and 2014 was the warmest ever recorded. Our communities are already feeling the growing costs of increased number of extreme weather events, such as hurricanes, droughts, and flooding. According to NOAA, the frequency of billion-dollar storm-related disasters has increased five percent each year since 1980.

    In Paris, the United States and our global partners will offer concrete targets for reducing greenhouse gas emissions to prevent the most devastating impacts of climate change. However, true success in Paris—and in the days, weeks and months that follow—will come down to America’s willingness to build on the momentum from the UN talks and continue to lead the world by implementing clean energy solutions.

    States, cities and businesses are already paving the way with clean energy solutions that are substantially and cost-effectively transitioning our country away from dirty fossil fuels and towards clean sources like wind and solar. As leaders responsible for America’s present and future prosperity, we must protect our communities from the dangers of climate change.

    To ensure our economic prosperity, to protect our health and children, and to ensure our security and safety, we need to act now to transition our country to more than 50 percent clean energy by 2030.

    Very Respectfully,

     350 state and local elected officials

  • Maine's Ocean Renewable Power Company awarded over $2million for energy project to help achieve U.S. climate goals

    On November 23, 2015, the U.S. Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz announced $125 million across 41 cutting-edge energy technologies awarded by the Department of Energy’s (DOE) Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E).

    Maine's Ocean Renewable Power Company (ORPC) will recieve $2,248,223 to develop an innovative deployment and retrieval capability that will significantly reduce costs for cross-flow design marine hydrokinetic systems, in which a turbine generates power from tides and/or rivers.

    The turbine blades will employ active pitch control to allow for thrust generation in deployment/retrieval mode and higher efficiency in power generation mode. If successful, this project could reduce the cost of the installation process in which ORPC’s turbine could be placed in the water near shore, self-propel to the deployment location, and hold itself in place on the seafloor through redirected downward thrust.

    On the same day the ORPC grant was announced The Harold Alfond Foundation gave a $3.9 million grant to the University of Maine, formally establishing the Harold Alfond W2 Ocean Engineering Laboratory and Advanced Manufacturing Laboratory. The Ocean Engineering Laboratory will build prototypes of coastal and offshore structures, including ships, aquaculture facilities, oil and gas structures, and ocean energy devices under extreme wave, wind and current environments. ORPC will most likely be testing the new devices developed from the DOE grant at UMaine, as they have tested their products there in the past, improving their designs.

    “It’s been very exciting to watch ORPC develop innovative technology to generate sustainable, clean power from tides and rivers—all while creating and saving over a hundred jobs in 14 Maine counties,” said Congresswoman Chellie Pingree.  “As ORPC takes its technology to new markets, this federal investment will help them fine-tune their products so they are better able to compete with other power sources. I’m pleased that I had the opportunity to talk to Secretary Moniz about this great company and am glad that they were chosen for this significant award.”  

    Wave machine at the new lab at UMaine where ORPC will most likely test their innovations.

    Courtesy photo

    “The ARPA-E projects selected today highlight how American ingenuity can spur innovation and generate a wide range of technology options to address our nation’s most pressing energy issues,” said U.S. Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz. “As we look beyond COP21, the energy technologies the Department of Energy invests in today will provide the solutions needed to combat climate change and develop a global low-carbon economy in the future.”

    These new projects are funded under ARPA-E’s OPEN 2015 program and come in advance of the COP21 U.N. Climate Negotiations in Paris next week. The announcement was made at D.C. technology incubator 1776 at an event that focused on leveraging America’s top innovators to find technological solutions to combat climate change, enhance security and solve pressing energy challenges around the globe. 

    Open solicitations – also issued in 2009 and 2012 - serve as an open call to scientists and engineers for transformational technologies across the entire scope of ARPA-E’s energy mission. Through both open and focused solicitations, ARPA-E funds innovative technologies that display promise for both technical and commercial impact, but are too early for private-sector investment. The OPEN 2015 projects come from 21 states and encompass 10 technical categories, including transportation, electricity generation and delivery and energy efficiency. 

    The 41 projects selected under OPEN 2015 will pursue novel approaches to energy innovation across the full spectrum of energy applications, with approximately 36 percent of the projects led by universities, 39 percent by small businesses, 10 percent by large businesses, 10 percent by national labs, and 5 percent by non-profits.

    To view the complete list of selected OPEN 2015 projects, please visit: http://go.usa.gov/cTHVW

  • Alfond Foundation awards $3.9 million to UMaine ocean engineering laboratories



    The Harold Alfond Foundation gave a $3.9 million grant to the University of Maine, formally establishing the Harold Alfond W2 Ocean Engineering Laboratory and Advanced Manufacturing Laboratory. The Ocean Engineering Laboratory will build prototypes of coastal and offshore structures, including ships, aquaculture facilities, oil and gas structures, and ocean energy devices under extreme wave, wind and current environments.

    “These will be the only labs of their kind in Maine with world-class capabilities to educate students and conduct cutting-edge research and development,” said professor Habib Dagher, executive director of the UMaine Composites Center. “The R&D will support the growth of the ocean economies and shipbuilding sectors in Maine and the nation, as well as the growth of digital and additive manufacturing of thermoplastic composite materials.”

    The Advanced Manufacturing Laboratory for thermoplastic composites will utilize digital, additive and robotics manufacturing to cut back the time and costs other methods require.

    The new laboratory features a 16-foot-deep wave pool with a rotating wind machine. It’s meant to test 1:50 scale models against waves up to 2½ feet, or 125 feet when scaled up, and the scale equivalent of hurricane-force winds. 16 large “paddles” push the water to create the waves of varying sizes and frequencies to see how prototypes hold up to the most severe storm conditions.

    Structural thermoplastics are recyclable materials that could transform the use of composite materials use in cars, ships, boats and aerospace applications. In June, the Composites Center received $497,965 from the National Institutes of Standards and Technology to develop a national road map for advanced manufacturing of structural thermoplastics composites materials.

    “The University of Maine has long been a pioneer in ocean research and engineering. With the state-of-the-art Alfond Ocean Engineering and Advanced Manufacturing Laboratories, the students and faculty at UMaine will be able to build on this impressive legacy and help grow Maine’s marine economy,” said U.S. Sen. Angus King. “I commend the Alfond Foundation for its dedication to providing a brighter future for Maine, and for its continued commitment to giving our students the opportunities they need to grow, learn and thrive.”‎

    The total construction, equipping and start-up of the new laboratories over the first three years will cost more than $13.8. Of that, the center had raised more than $9.98 through four grant competitions, including the U.S. Economic Development Administration, National Science Foundation, National Institute of Standards and Technology, and Maine Technology Institute, as well as a Maine voter-approved bond, supported by the Governor and Maine Legislature in June 2015. The $5million bond was the first LePage has backed during his tenure. Governor John Baldacci established bonds, through MTI, to continually fund the work at UMaine but LePage put an end to those programs.

    The Alfond Foundation's $3.9 million will help equip the facility, hire  engineers for the start-up in 2015–16, and fund graduate and undergraduate students over three years.

    Dr. Habib Dagher explains the process of testing in the pool at the UMaine Center during a press conference.

    Aleady established at UMaine is the Advanced Composite Center, which Dr. Dagher helped build during his time at the University. That Center is already developing advanced technologies for boat building, bridges, windmills, and ultra-strong buildings. With Dr. Dagher's guidence the Center recieved millions of dollars in grants from the state and federal government. Dr. Dagher also helped invent new technologies with his students and staff. (see more below)

    In the fuure their might be floating offshore windmill farms that use the discoveries of Dr. Dagher and his team. These, floating farms- yes floating, most ocean windmills are embeded in the ground - could generate enough energy for all of Maine, and beyond. They have already been tested at the new center.

    “Two integrated world-class research laboratories will be established in Maine through this unique partnership with the Alfond Foundation,” said UMaine President Susan Hunter. “This advancement in one of UMaine’s Signature Areas of Excellence creates unparalleled opportunities for students and researchers, and supports marine-related economic development in Maine.”

    Maine State Senator Amy Volk, chair of the Labor, Research, Commerce and Economic Development Committee said, “UMaine plugs its students into real-world research and engagement initiatives, including internships, co-ops and fieldwork throughout Maine — and beyond — in partnership with businesses and industries statewide, facilitating technology transfer, patenting, licensing and commercialization activities. We are encouraged by this public and private partnership to help Maine companies pursue R&D, as it represents strategic growth and economic development activity.”

    The UMaine Composites Center is the largest STEM research and development program located in a Maine university, and is at the heart of one of UMaine’s seven Signature Areas of Excellence — Advanced Materials for Infrastructure and Energy.

    More about UMaine’s Advanced Structures and Composites Center:

    Since its establishment by the National Science Foundation in 1996, the center has employed and trained over 1,800 UMaine undergraduate and graduate students. These students were paid to work on award-winning R&D projects with over 500 Maine-based, national and international companies. The center is housed on campus in a 100,000-square-foot laboratory facility valued at over $110 million.

    Research at the center has resulted in 42 issued and pending patents, over 500 published technical papers, and the creation of Maine spin-off companies through licensing agreements of its inventions, patents or trade secrets. This earned the UMaine Composites Center the 2008 Maine Development Foundation’s Champion for Economic Development Award.

    The center has received 40 national and international excellence awards, including:

    • 2015 White House Transportation Champion of Change
    • Top industry awards from the American Composites Manufacturers Association.
    • The 2011 Charles Pankow Award for Innovation from the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE), the top global innovation award for its Bridge-in-a-Backpack technology.
    • The 2011 Engineering Excellence Award by the American Council of Engineering Companies (ACEC).
    • With funding from the Department of Energy, the center has pioneered development of ocean energy technologies, deploying in 2013 the first grid-connected floating offshore wind turbine in the U.S. in partnership with 30 organizations. Advanced Infrastructure Technologies (AIT), a 2008 spin-off, constructed 20 bridges and became the first composite technology bridge system to be approved in the U.S. AASHTO highway code. It is now an international company after installing a bridge in Trinidad.

    In addition, Compotech Inc., located in Brewer, spun-off the center in 2014 to commercialize blast and ballistic technologies. That same year, Revolution Research, Inc. was created by two center students to develop recyclable insulation using cellulose nanofibrils.

  • President Obama's solar energy job program will provide jobs to 50,000 veterans

    by Ramona du Houx

    A six-year Obama program has been launched this fall to train veterans in the growing solar panel installation industry, addressing climate change and jobs for veterans. The program has started on American military bases, and will provide training for at least 50,000 veterans.

    The initiative will not only train our veterans in an industry that is taking off and is on track to be the largest producer of energy in the world by 2050, but solar installations at military bases will save billions of dollars in energy costs for the Defense Department.

    In addition to the veterans program, the Department of Agriculture will fund $70 million in solar and renewable energy projects in rural and farm areas.

    The Department of Energy is also proposing new efficiency standards for commercial air conditioners, which will result in substantial cuts in emissions and provide businesses sizable savings on energy costs.

    In October 2015, the Energy Department announced a program that will spend $53 million for research and development of projects that will drive down the cost of solar energy.

     Governor John Baldacci turns on the switch that started his solar panel tax rebate program in 2006. Photo by Ramona du Houx

    ReVision Energy of Maine has installed some of the largest solar arrays in Maine. The company proclaims that the state is well suited for more solar energy panels as Maine gets the same amount of sun, yearly, as Florida.

    In Maine, Governor John Baldacci started a solar panel tax rebate, which was a huge success, only to be stopped by Governor LePage.

    While Republicans in Congress have obstructed the President’s plans for aggressive alternative energy subsidies Obama has been able to achieve milestones with executive actions, like this solar program.

    Solar energy taking off around the world-

    In Germany every home and business is mandated, with government subsidies, to have a solar panel.

    Between the tropics and probably as far as the 33rd parallel, the sun could soon be a major source of energy for households and businesses.

    Countries such as Mexico and Indonesia, long dependent on cheap home-produced oil and coal, are realising that a solar panel on every roof can reduce poverty by lowering energy costs as well as minimising the destabilising weather effects from higher CO2 emissions.

    As the International Energy Agency (IEA) says in its World Energy Outlook 2015, the tumbling cost of installing photovoltaics, as much as a commitment to limiting climate change, is persuading these countries to switch to renewables. It predicts a cumulative $7.4trn global investment in renewable energy by 2040.

    Indonesia has forged ahead by limiting investment subsidies that have underpinned coal, oil and gas production for decades. China is also beginning to make the switch to renewables while moving away from dirty, energy-intensive industries.

    The result, says the IEA, could limit the demand for oil and keep the price relatively low for the rest of the decade.

     

  • Maine House Speaker Eves praises housing bond victory, urges LePage to act quickly

     Speaker of the House Mark Eves, D-North Berwick, on Tuesday night praised the passage of bond Question 2 on the statewide ballot. The bond passed with 68 percent of the vote.

    Eves led the bipartisan effort in the State Legislature to pass the $15 million bond proposal to invest in affordable and efficient housing for Maine seniors.

    “The passage of the housing bond is a huge victory for Maine seniors and the economy. It’s a win win for communities across the state,” said Eves, who sponsored the bond proposal. “The investment will help a dire need for affordable housing for Maine seniors, while also helping to create construction jobs in communities in rural and urban areas of our state. Maine voters sent a strong message tonight in support of seniors. I urge the governor to release the bond quickly and honor the will of the voters.”

    Maine has a shortage of nearly 9,000 affordable rental homes for low income older adults, and that this shortfall will grow to more than 15,000 by 2022 unless action is taken to address the problem, according to a report by independent national research firm Abt Associates.

     “With the passage of the Housing Bond, Maine can start to scale that number back through improved affordable housing measures in some of our most vulnerable communities,”said Lori Parham, AARP Maine State Director. 

    The Senior Housing Bond will enable more Mainers to age in their own homes by revitalizing communities and providing new homes for older Mainers; dedicating funds to home repair and weatherization of some existing homes; and by creating jobs in the construction industry.

    AARP Maine heard from thousands of their 230,000 members in the state regarding this issue in the weeks leading up to the election.  On October 20th, more than 4,000 AARP members participated in a live tele-town hall with Senate President Mike Thibodeau (R-Winterport) and House Speaker Mark Eves (D-North Berwick).  Participants were invited to ask questions during the town hall meeting and many callers expressed their support for the state’s investment in affordable housing.

  • USDA grants for Maine to remove health and safety hazards, make homes more energy efficient

    Photo left: Governor John Baldacci helps to weatherize a home in Augusta to help the elderly save heating costs in 2009. Photo by Ramona du Houx

    By Ramona du Houx 

    Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack announced October 28, 2015 that USDA is investing $3.7 million to help rural families repair and rehabilitate their homes.

    “At this critical time of the year as weather turns colder and many Mainers struggle to pay their heating bills, I am pleased that USDA Rural Development can provide funding to our partners that will help 30 Maine families in five counties weatherize and make repairs to their homes. This helps them to preserve what is often their most valuable asset and provide a safe, warm home for their families,” said USDA Rural Development Maine State Director Virginia Manuel.

    Under the Baldacci administration programs were put into action to help weatherization improvements. Bonds, grants from the federal government and training programs were put into place. Funds from the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative were used through Efficiency Maine to help businesses and the elderly.

     

    Governor John Baldacci also created bonds to help research and development of alternative energy technologies, as well as promoted the production of wood pellets from disused forested trees.

     

    During the recession Baldacci started the Weatherization core, based on F. D. Roosevelt’s conservation core, to help low income and elderly Mainers with weatherization improvements.

     

    Governor Baldacci saw that creating these initiatives would save the people of Maine thousands of dollars they would have wasted in heating costs, as well as grew the economy with new jobs. As Maine's building stock is over 85 percent of older homes these jobs would reach far into the future.

     

    Unfortunately, Governor Paul LePage has a different plan. He wishes to use protected forestland for fuel for low income Mainers and until he gets his way he refuses to release over $11 million in voter-approved bonds for land conservation.

     

    Many of Baldacci's initiatives received funds from the USDA, and the Department of Energy under the Obama administration.

     

    The funds announced by Secretary Vilsack are being awarded through the Housing Preservation Grant (HPG) program in 46 states and the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico to support the renovation of 1,147 units.  

       "Many low-income families in rural areas struggle to afford necessary housing upkeep," said Secretary Vilsack. "This USDA program provides grants for repairs not only to ensure that properties are in compliance with health and safety codes, but also to help people lower their maintenance costs through energy efficiency and weatherization improvements. All of these efforts make sure rural folks can stay in their homes.”

    Where the USDA funds will be allocated: 

    • Western Maine Community Action, located in Wilton has been selected to receive a Housing Preservation Grant in the amount of $25,000. Funds will be used to rehabilitate and repair 10 homes for very low income households in Franklin County. Funds will be used in conjunction with weatherization, Central Heating Improvement, and other funding sources for anticipated leveraged funds totaling in excess of $109,000.

     

    • Penquis Community Action Program, located in Bangor, has been selected to receive a Housing Preservation Grant in the amount of $25,000. Rural Development funds will be used by Penquis CAP to assist 20 very low and low income households in Penobscot, Piscataquis, Knox, and Waldo counties.  The funds will be leveraged with approximately $230,800.00 in funding from MaineHousing, the Department of Economic and Community Development, and other weatherization programs.  

     Photo right: Governor John Baldacci at a school in Wilton talking about the pellet burner, funded in part by state government programs and the USDA grant, in 2009. Photo by Ramona du Houx

     USDA provides financing to such as local governments, public agencies, federally recognized Indian Tribes, non-profit organizations and faith-based and community groups.  These entities distribute the grants to individual homeowners as well as to owners of multi-family rental properties or cooperative dwellings who rent to low- and very-low-income residents.  

       Since the start of the Obama Administration, USDA has provided almost $47 million in Housing Preservation Grants that have leveraged more than $167 million to repair and rehabilitate 12,000 homes and apartments in rural communities.

  • If waitresses earned a decent minimum wage, our dignity might get a raise

    Editorial by Annie Quandt, a server working in the Old Port and a resident of Westport Island. First appeared in the PPH

    While I’ve never had someone completely stiff me because it took them a while to get their food – the customers’ rationale in the New Jersey incident, as they noted on the receipt – I frequently find myself putting up with almost anything from customers in order to get the tips that make up half of my income.

    In Maine, 82 percent of all tipped restaurant workers are women, and any woman who has worked for tips will tell you that sexual harassment and rude comments are, sadly, just another part of the job.

    When your customers pay your wages instead of your employer, you don’t have the luxury of speaking up when you feel uncomfortable or disrespected; if rent is due that week or you have a family to feed, you just have to put up with it.

    I’ve been working at a restaurant on Commercial Street in Portland for just about a year now, and I just picked up a second serving job on Commercial Street to make ends meet. Recently, two men came in, clearly intoxicated, and sat at their table for an hour and a half trying to look up the waitresses’ skirts.

    All of the women working that night could feel these men leering and were uncomfortable and anxious the whole shift. When we complained to management, they told us to cut off their alcohol consumption – but nothing else was done.

    These types of incidents are commonplace in the restaurant industry. I have been asked out on dates, with the customer’s pen hovering over the tip line as he waited for my answer. I have been asked for my number more times than I can count. I have had customers comment on my outfit or my body while I’m working. I’ve wanted to say something, but the customer is always right … right?

    When women servers can’t defend themselves from rude behavior from customers, the entire restaurant culture begins to accept it as the norm. Even management plays a role in harassment in this industry.

    If you’re not “date ready” when you show up for your shift, in some restaurants, you’ll be told to change or unbutton your top or to put on more makeup to make yourself appealing. In my case, the managers have made it clear that the curvier girls are not allowed to wear certain clothing items, while the more slender servers can wear whatever they want to work.

    Comments like this about body types and personal style not only make us all feel watched and uncomfortable but also sometimes make it more difficult for us to do our jobs. When I’m sweeping and cleaning and doing side work in 95-degree heat, the freedom to wear a skirt versus jeans is almost a necessity.

    Complaints about sexual harassment from co-workers are rarely taken seriously in restaurants. It is always tough to report unwanted attention or harassment from co-workers or customers, but it is especially difficult if the harassment comes from management.

    Where do you turn when the person who holds power over you at your job is the one harassing you? What happens if you do make a formal complaint? The restaurant industry is a tight-knit community, and if any employer thinks you might be a hassle, they won’t hire you.

    Servers wield so little power in their positions and in their wages, and I am inclined to think that the two are inextricably linked.

    According to a Restaurant Opportunities Centers United survey, servers working in states like Maine – where there is a sub-minimum wage for tipped workers – are three times more likely to experience harassment on the job than servers who work in states where everyone makes the same minimum wage.

    This is evidence of a systemic problem – combined with the fact that, according to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, 7 percent of American women work in restaurants but 37 percent of all EEOC sexual harassment complaints come out of this industry. We’re allowing an entire industry full of hardworking women to go to work with the presumption that they will be harassed.

    I support the 2016 “wages with dignity” referendum, which would raise the minimum to $12 by 2020 and eliminate the sub-minimum wage for tipped workers by 2024. Earning the same minimum wage as other workers would mean tipped workers wouldn’t feel like they have to ingratiate themselves with their customers regardless of their behavior.

    It would mean that management and our co-workers would have to respect us as equals (because when you are paid less, you must obviously be worth less). And it would mean a stable wage for the long winters and tough weekday shifts when servers are more willing to sacrifice dignity at work in order to make ends meet.

    I deserve dignity on the job, and one fair minimum wage would help me get it.

  • Maine’s wind investment— great investment even if wind doesn’t always blow

    Kibby Wind Farm in Maine's Western Mts. Photo by Ramona du Houx

    By Jeremy Payne—executive director of the Maine Renewable Energy Association.

    In just eight years, Maine’s burgeoning wind energy industry will have grown from an idea to more than 700 megawatts by the end of 2015. These wind farms will be equal to about 10 percent of the state’s energy generation.

    This is a major success story for our economy, environment and energy security. For example, a study earlier this year by former state economist and professor Charlie Colgan found that wind development will create 4,200 jobs in 2015 alone and lead to employee earnings of more than $250 million. Also, the environmental benefits continue to accrue to Maine. A study completed by Sustainable Energy Advantage found that by 2020 our wind energy will reduce harmful carbon pollution by 2.5 million tons, which is equal to the pollution of 400,000 passenger vehicles.

    While wind energy continues to make good on its promises, there are others who attempt to mislead the general public with their own creative storytelling. A recent opinion piece ran in which the writer expressed his misguided belief that because of one hot day last month when it was not as sunny or windy as he would have liked he believes we have invested poorly in our clean energy future with wind and solar farms. In essence, the claims seem based on that single day’s energy output, and we are supposed to then project out for the other 364 days of the year and conclude wind and solar are not viable?

    Imagine if we applied that same logic to other parts our lives. If it doesn’t rain tomorrow, should we throw away our umbrellas? If there are no fires in town, should we close down the fire station? More directly, if natural gas supplies are insufficient to meet our demand — as they were during the 2014 polar vortex — should we remove the pipeline infrastructure?

    Certainly the answer to all those questions is “of course not!” And that also applies to the question of whether we made a mistake by investing in Maine-made, emission-free energy. One can quickly see how foolish it is to extrapolate one day’s data to reach a desired conclusion about the viability of a particular technology or industry.

    The truth is we have invested wisely and carefully in our energy future by harvesting our natural resources: the wind, the water, the wood and the sun. Just recently, we learned that the Oakfield wind farm soon will become fully operational and will become the largest wind farm in New England — Kibby Mountain at 132 megawatts had been its largest. This project will deliver nearly $27 million in economic benefits to the community over its 20-year lifespan. These dollars will be spent on community-approved projects — new fire trucks, road reconstruction and a donation to a veterans memorial, for example.

    In addition to the economic and environmental advantages of investing in wind energy, we also know that the cost of wind is at an all-time low. In fact, two recent term sheets initially approved by the Maine Public Utilities Commission included costs below the standard offer, or default service, rate paid by ratepayers. The savings were projected to total $32 million to $73 million over the proposed 20-year contracts. Wind is able to offer these competitive prices because it has no fuel costs. Wind offers the equivalent of a 30-year fixed mortgage. Our “monthly payment” will always be the same because there are no fuel price swings. On the other hand, relying heavily on fossil fuels is like signing an adjustable rate mortgage. The prices can and do change without warning.

    But it is also important to acknowledge that no one resource — not wind, not solar and not natural gas — is the answer to Maine’s energy challenges. Instead, there is enough room at the table for all resources to help us achieve our goals of a growing economy, a clean and breathable environment and a more secure energy future.

    Overall, Maine’s energy future is very complex, and there are no easy answers; however, when we do consider heeding the advice of others, I would suggest we make sure those who are offering it are knowledgeable and credible.

     This editorial first appeared in the Bangor Daily News.

     

  • Efficiency Maine Trust seeks input on 3-year plan leaders call for it to be strong so it will create savings

     

    "Energy efficiency is the biggest win-win-win I can imagine for Maine’s economy, environment, and energy future,” said Dylan Voorhees, Clean Energy Director for the Natural Resources Council of Maine urging the Efficiency Maine Trust and Public Utilities Commission to come up with a strong energy plan. Courtesy photo

    By Ramona du Houx

    As The Efficiency Maine Trust held a public input session, a diverse group of experts called on Efficiency Maine and the Maine Public Utilities Commission (PUC) to develop and approve, respectively, a strong three-year plan that will maximize energy savings for homes, businesses, industry, and municipalities.

    By maximizing energy savings businesses have had more funds to invest in their enterprises like hiring people.

    “Everybody seems to talk about the fact that Maine homes are some of the oldest and leakiest in the country,” said Richard Burbank, President of Evergreen Home Performance. “But Efficiency Maine and the businesses like mine aren’t just talking about it, we’re addressing the problem. Efficiency Maine is rapidly accelerating the rate of home energy improvements and, as a result, companies like ours are growing and hiring workers. Much more remains to be done, but we’re charting the right course.”

    The September 24th day-long stakeholder meeting at the Augusta Civic Center followed a contentious legislative session that ended in lawmakers voting unanimously to reaffirm their commitment to Maine’s strong energy-efficiency law.

    “Energy efficiency is the most powerful strategy Maine can pursue to address our energy challenges,” said Dylan Voorhees, Clean Energy Director for the Natural Resources Council of Maine. “This has been reaffirmed by the Legislature, the impressive results of Efficiency Maine programs, and by business leaders and ordinary Mainers every day. Having a strong three-year plan is the foundation of Maine’s progress on energy efficiency.”


    According to Maine law, every three years Efficiency Maine must develop a plan that lays out the programs, initiatives, and budgets it will use to help homeowners, small businesses, industrial producers, and others save money through energy-efficiency improvements. These range from helping homeowners install insulation, to helping small businesses cut electricity bills with lighting retrofits, to helping hospitals and paper mills install sophisticated high-efficiency equipment.

    In FY 2015 alone, Efficiency Maine helped roughly 4,000 businesses (most of them small businesses), 10,000 homeowners, and more than 3,000 units in larger multifamily buildings. It launched a new program specifically designed to help small businesses by bringing ready-to-go lighting improvements right to their doorstep. Roughly 350 small businesses participated in this initiative, primarily focused in Aroostook County and Waterville-Winslow.

    “Small businesses are a foundation of the Maine economy and our members are deeply committed to saving energy with energy efficiency,” said Will Ikard, Director of the Maine Small Business Coalition. “We applaud Efficiency Maine for beginning to focus more intensely on initiatives for small businesses and urge them to step up those efforts significantly in the next three years.”

    Maine’s energy-efficiency efforts get a big boost from our participation in the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI.)

    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  $70,402,611.85 million in total for Maine.

     RGGI carbon markets currently generate about $15 million/year that Maine uses to support energy-efficiency efforts, specifically those that reduce oil use. This includes the Home Energy Savings Program and programs for large manufacturers.

    RGGI is providing significant benefits to Maine by supporting cost-effective weatherization and efficiency improvements through Efficiency Maine, which was developed under the Baldacci administration. Former State Senator and current Portland City Councilor Jon Hinck helped herald the legislation through the legislative process.

    "Not only has RGGI helped clean up and diversify Maine's energy mix and make us more energy efficient, it demonstrates the potential to make even more positive gains when done right," said Former State Senator and current Portland City Councilor Jon Hinck in an interview.

    Richard Burbank, President of Evergreen Home Performance (at the left in the courtesy photo) said, “ Efficiency Maine is rapidly accelerating the rate of home energy improvements and, as a result, companies like ours are growing and hiring workers."

    RGGI took on additional significance when the U.S. EPA finalized its Clean Power Plan, the first national limits on carbon pollution from power plants. Under the Clean Power Plan, it is expected that Maine and the region will continue to operate RGGI (which is stricter than the Clean Power Plan), and continue to lower both energy costs and carbon pollution through energy efficiency.

    Over the first four years of its operation (2010-2014), Efficiency Maine initiatives yielded $1 billion in lifetime energy savings, primarily in electricity and heating oil reductions. Every dollar invested by Efficiency Maine—which is generally matched by spending on the part of the home or business—has yielded more than $5 in energy savings.

    “Energy efficiency is a fantastic investment for the state of Maine,” said Tom Tietenberg, Professor of Economics, Emeritus, at Colby College and a former board member of the Efficiency Maine Trust. “By helping homes and businesses overcome informational, technical, and financial barriers, Efficiency Maine is helping energy consumers of all types keep more of their dollars in their pockets. These savings, in turn, mean more spending within Maine and a boost to the economy."

    Maine policymakers have recognized the proven successes and excellent economic returns that energy efficiency provides. Maine law requires Efficiency Maine to develop a plan that seeks to capture all cost-effective energy-efficiency savings opportunities that it can achieve.

    In 2013, the Legislature passed an omnibus energy bill that clarified this standard, and capped ratepayer contributions at $60 million/year. In 2015, in reaction to a PUC decision to limit efficiency spending to less than $25 million, the Legislature voted unanimously, over Governor LePage’s veto, to reaffirm that efficiency spending could be up to $60 million, as long as the spending met the “cost-effectiveness” test.

    “We know three things very clearly,” said Voorhees. “First, energy efficiency is extremely cost-effective. Second, Maine’s efficiency efforts are a proven success. Third, there are huge opportunities to improve the energy efficiency of our buildings. If you put those together, the direction Maine must take is clear: we should do as much energy efficiency as we can. Energy efficiency is the biggest win-win-win I can imagine for Maine’s economy, environment, and energy future.”

  • Federal funds for energy projects to go to 13 businesses in Maine

    From Bar Harbor Community Farm LLC, Bar Harbor to Soloney Acres LLC of Solon, and 11 other businesses are receiving a total of nearly $120,000 in federal funds for renewable energy and energy efficiency projects.

    The U.S. Department of Agriculture's Rural Development announced in early August that the 13 Maine businesses were among 264 recipients across the country to receive a total of nearly $63 million in loans and grant as part of its Rural Energy for America Program.

    "Our Maine businesses are innovative and value preserving Maine's pristine natural resources," said USDA Rural Development State Director Virginia Manuel. "The 13 businesses being assisted through the Rural Energy for America Program will recognize substantial energy and cost-saving benefits that can help them to reduce overall operating costs and create jobs in Maine's vibrant communities."

    The 13 Maine businesses that are receiving grants or loans are:

    Bar Harbor Community Farm LLC, Bar Harbor

    The farm is receiving $6,868 to purchase and install a new roof-mounted, 8.42-kilowatt solar photovoltaic system on a newly construction seedling greenhouse.

    Buck Farms, Mapleton

    The farm is receiving $5,001 to help with the installation of a biomass boiler that uses wood pellets to heat a malting facility that was previously used as an unheated potato storage facility.

    County Energy Solutions, Fort Fairfield

    The business is receiving $6,792 to help it install a ground-mounted, dual-axis solar tracking photovoltaic system at its facility.

    F.W. Thurston Co., Bernard

    The business is receiving $11,738 to install a new roof-mounted, 12.93-kilowatt solar photovoltaic system that is expected to replace 18% of its energy demands.

    Flewelling Frederic, Crouseville

    The business is receiving $4,499 to install variable-frequency drives on its potato storage ventilation fans, which will help it save 22,161 kilowatt hours annually.

    JG SL Partners LLC, Freeport

    The business is receiving $5,590 to help with the purchase and installation of a new roof-mounted, 6.89-kilowatt solar photovoltaic system that will replace 38% of its energy demands.

    North Country Rivers Inc., Bingham

    The business is receiving $7,772 to install a high-efficiency, ductless heat pump that will provide supplemental heating and cooling. It's expected to save it more than 1,819 kilowatt hours a year.

    Paris Auto Barn LLC, South Paris

    The business is receiving $12,397 to purchase and install a new roof-mounted, 13.5-kilowatt solar photovoltaic system at its facility.

    Solonely Acres LLC, Solon

    The business is receiving $19,980 to purchase and install a new five-ton geothermal heat pump system and a 16.83-kilowatt solar photovoltaic system at its new commercial storage building.

    Thompson Cottages Inc., New Harbor

    The business is receiving $3,600 to purchase and install a new 4-kilowatt solar photovoltaic system on two seasonal cottages.

    TMDE Calibration Labs Inc., Richmond

    The business is receiving $18,750 to purchase and install a new roof-mounted, 25-kilowatt solar photovoltaic system at its facility.

    Keena Tracy (doing business as Little Ridge Farm), Lisbon Falls

    Tracy is receiving $4,554 to purchase and install a new roof-mounted, 6.12-kilowatt solar photovoltaic system.

    Wilbur’s of Maine Chocolate Confections, Freeport

    The business is receiving $12,159 to purchase and install a new roof-mounted, 15.4-kilowatt solar photovoltaic system that is expected to replace more than 13 percent of its energy demands.

  • President Obama to announce biggest climate change clean power plan Aug 3

    The Clean Power Plan sets achievable standards to reduce carbon dioxide emissions by 32 percent from 2005 levels by 2030.
    By setting these goals and enabling states to create tailored plans to meet them, the Plan will:

    Protect the health of American families. In 2030, it will:
    • Prevent up to 3,600 premature deaths;
    • Prevent 1,700 non-fatal heart attacks; 
    • Prevent 90,000 asthma attacks in children;
    • Prevent 300,000 missed workdays and schooldays.

    Boost our economy by:
    • Leading to 30 percent more renewable energy generation in 2030;
    • Creating tens of thousands of jobs; and
    • Continuing to lower the costs of renewable energy;

    Save the average American family
    • Nearly $85 a year on their energy bills in 2030
    • Save enough energy to power 30 million homes in 2030, and
    • Save consumers $155 billion from 2020-2030;

    Continue American leadership internationally
    on climate change by keeping us on track
    to meet the U.S. 2020 and 2025 emissions targets.

  • Hillary R Clinton announces her plan for a clean energy future for America

    Hillary Clinton, the Democratic presidential candidate released a fact sheet detailing her plan to fight climate change on July 26th-- and it focuses on promoting clean energy generation across the country. Along with the transition to a clean energy economy comes new jobs putting up solar panels, building wind turbines and retro-fitting buildings. 

    The plan includes a promise to install half a billion solar panels by the end of Clinton’s first term, which  would represent a 700 percent increase. Clinton also promised that, if elected, enough renewable energy would be produced to power every home in the country within 10 years.

    “We can make a transition over time from a fossil fuel economy, predominantly, to a clean renewable energy economy, predominantly,” she said.

  • New Obama initiative to increase solar access for all Americans

     

    by Ramona du Houx

    The Obama Administration on July 7,2015 announced a new initiative to increase access to solar energy for all Americans, in particular low- and moderate- income communities, while expanding opportunities to join the solar workforce. 

    Last year, the United States brought online as much solar energy every three weeks as it did in all of 2008, and the solar industry added jobs 10 times faster than the rest of the economy.  And since the beginning of 2010, the average cost of a solar electric system has dropped by 50 percent.  The executive actions and private sector commitments that we are announcing today will help continue to scale up solar for all Americans, including those who are renters, lack the startup capital to invest in solar, or do not have adequate information on how to transition to solar energy. 

    The key components of the initiative that the Administration announced today are:

    • Launching a National Community Solar Partnership to unlock access to solar for the nearly 50 percent of households and business that are renters or do not have adequate roof space to install solar systems, including issuing a guide to Support States In Developing Community Solar Programs;
    • Setting a goal to install 300 megawatts (MW) of renewable energy in federally subsidized housing and providing technical assistance to make it easier to install solar, including clarifying how to use Federal funding;
    • Housing authorities, rural electric co-ops, power companies, and organizations in more than 20 states across the country are committing to put in place more than 260 solar energy projects, including projects to help low- and moderate- income communities save on their energy bills and further community solar; and
    • More than $520 million in independent commitments from philanthropic and impact investors, states, and cities to advance community solar and scale up solar and energy efficiency for low- and moderate- income households.

    To continue enhancing employment opportunities for all Americans in the solar industry, the Administration announced the following executive actions and private sector commitments, including:

    • AmeriCorps funding to deploy solar and create jobs in underserved communities;
    • Expanding solar energy education and opportunities for job training; and
    • The solar industry is also setting its own, independent goal of becoming the most diverse sector of the U.S.  energy industry, and a number of companies are announcing that they are taking steps to build a more inclusive solar workforce. 

    These new actions build on President Obama’s goal to train 75,000 workers to enter the solar industry by 2020 and the Solar Ready Vets program that will train transitioning military personnel for careers in the solar industry at 10 military bases. 

     

    EXECUTIVE ACTIONS TO SCALE UP SOLAR AND DECREASE ENERGY BILLS

     

    • Setting A Goal To Install 300 Megawatts Of Renewable Energy in Federally Subsidized Housing: In the Climate Action Plan, the President set a goal of installing 100 megawatts (MW) of solar and other types of renewable energy in Federally subsidized housing.   The Administration has already surpassed that goal, through commitments to install more than 185 MW of renewable energy.    Today, we are announcing that the Administration is tripling its current goal and setting a new goal to install 300 MW of renewable energy on affordable by 2020, as well as expanding the goal to include community and shared solar installations.

     

    • Providing Technical Assistance to Make It Easier to Install Solar on Affordable Housing: One of the largest barriers to deploying onsite solar on affordable housing is the lack of knowledge on how to initiate the process.  To overcome this barrier, the U.S.  Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) is announcing that it will offer direct technical assistance to affordable housing organizations making a commitment toward the Administration’s new 300 MW goal.  As part of this assistance, HUD is launching a website to provide policy guidance, tools, and other online resources to help advance solar deployment and the installation of other renewable energy in affordable housing. 

     

    • Developing a Toolkit to Increase the Ability of States to Use Federal Funding to Deploy Solar on Affordable Housing: To make it easier to use Section 108 Community Development Block Grant funds for solar energy systems, next month, HUD is releasing a renewable energy toolkit for use by Community Planning and Development (CPD) grantees.  The toolkit will provide program compliance information, tools, and case study examples to help communities integrate renewable energy components such as solar photovoltaic, solar hot water, and cogeneration into the program in an efficient, cost-effective, and impactful way by using CPD funds.  This action builds on an announcement last year during which, HUD’s CPD office affirmed that under current guidelines, Section 108 Community Development Block Grant funding can be used for clean energy and energy efficiency projects. 

     

    • Enhancing the Federal Housing Administration (FHA)’s PowerSaver Policy to Make It Easier to Borrow Up To $25,000 For Solar and Energy-Efficient Improvements FHA is planning updates to its second-mortgage program that will make it easier for homeowners to borrow up to $25,000 for solar and energy-efficient improvements by cutting red tape and making improvements more affordable.  Key features of the second mortgage program will include: 1) providing flexible underwriting to recognize the reduced cost of utilities for energy efficient homes; 2) allowing homeowners to control the disbursement of loan funds to the contractor; and 3) permitting contributions to lower out-of-pocket expenses and/or reduce borrower interest rates.  

     

    • Clarifying Policy to Pave the Way for Increased FHA Solar and Energy Efficient Financing on Federally Assisted and Insured Housing.  FHA recently clarified its policy on first mortgages to allow flexible financing options and the ability to obtain larger loan amounts for solar systems.   FHA is conducting forums on the updated Single Family Handbook to help increase lender awareness of these financing options, which will be effective September 14, 2015.

     

    • Launching a National Community Solar Partnership: The U.S.  Department of Energy (DOE) in collaboration with HUD, the U.S.  Department of Agriculture (USDA), the U.S.  Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), representatives from solar companies, NGOs, and state and community leaders are launching a National Community Solar Partnership to unlock access to solar for the nearly 50 percent of households and business that are renters or do not have adequate roof space to install solar systems.  The partnership will leverage the interest in the public and private sector to expand access to community solar, in particular, for low- and moderate- income communities, while utilizing the technical expertise of DOE and the National Laboratories. 

     

    • Issuing A Guide To Support States In Developing Community Solar Programs: The DOE SunShot Initiative and the National Renewable Energy Lab are releasing a new guide, which answers key program design questions collected from states that have implemented shared solar policies and programs around the country.  The guide will also explain how shared solar polices work in conjunction with other polices and provides links to relevant shared solar publications. 

     

    • Launching a Solar Working Group To Save Households on Their Energy Bills: The DOE SunShot Initiative, with assistance from Sandia National Laboratories and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, is forming a new working group to disseminate information to new homebuilders that want to offer customer-owned solar PV. 

       

  • Union solidarity at BIW in Maine

    Bath Iron Works shipbuilders took to the streets May 21st for a solidarity rally. Photo by Sarah Bigney

    By Ramona du Houx

    Bath Iron Works shipbuilders took to the streets May 21st for a solidarity rally to promote solidarity during the year before the union’s contract expires.

    “The union is behind its leadership, and the company is going to have to negotiate with us and not dictate to us," said Jay Wadleigh, president of the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers Local S6. “They need to abide by the contract, stop misleading the media and just work with us so we can get the costs of these ships down. We’re the best shipbuilders in the world. We want to work. We just want to be treated with dignity and respect and be negotiated with and not dictated to.”

    BIW is known as one of the best shipbuilders in America. It's slogan is "Bath Built is Best Built."

    This is the second big march at the shipyard this year. On March 24 nearly 1,000 members of the International Association of Machinists Union Local marched to rallying support and protesting a variety of proposed BIW changes.

    Caps on defense spending have resulted in fewer Naval contracts thus spurring the BIW changes including outsourcing work and cross-training employees.

    BIW says the measures will increase the shipyard’s efficiency and keep the costs of building destroyers competitive. The shipyard insists it needs to be competitive to win two bidding contracts. But the union says there are better ways to cut costs. The stalemate has resulted in a third-party arbitration and a federal lawsuit charging BIW with violating its contract with workers.


    Bath Iron Works shipbuilders took to the streets May 21st for a solidarity rally. Photo by Sarah Bigney

  • Maine Wind farms overwhelming provide environmental and health benefits and jobs

    Kibby wind farms in Western Maine. State government cleared the path for wind farms in Maine with Governor John Baldacci. Thousands of high paying skilled jobs are created with every wind farm. Wind power. A new study also proves wind power adds to Maine's quality of life with health and environmental benefits.         Photo by Ramona du Houx

    By Ramona du Houx

    Investing in wind farms moves Maine's economy forward creating great jobs while adding to Maine's quality of life with health and environmental benefits.

    The Wind for ME Coalition today released the first-of-its-kind study showing the overwhelming environmental and health benefits from Maine’s existing wind farms.

    “This study confirms what we have long known, but have never seen quantified in this level of detail,” said Jeremy Payne, executive director of the Maine Renewable Energy Association. “Maine wind farms are providing critical environmental benefits and this helps make clear why so many Mainers strongly support the continued development of clean, emission-free wind energy.”

    The March 2015 report, “Analysis of Estimated Emission Benefits of Maine Wind Farm Generation” completed by Sustainable Energy Advantage (SEA), analyzed Maine’s wind farm fleet output and then determined the environmental impact. Wind energy producers in Maine are replacing fossil fuels and are helping to substantially reduce harmful fossil fuel pollutants.

    SEA found that Maine wind farms: In 2013, reduced CO2 emissions by 490,000 tons – the equivalent of eliminating CO2 pollution from 94,000 Maine automobiles; By 2020 the wind farms will reduce CO2 emissions by an additional 2 million tons – the equivalent of removing pollution from more than 400,000 automobiles; and In 2013, eliminated sulfur oxide (SOx) emissions by 201 tons; and nitrogen oxide (NOx) emissions by 123 tons – notably, pollution from SOX and NOX emissions are known to cause acid rain, smog, acidification in lakes, rivers and oceans, and respiratory and cardiovascular illnesses.[1]

    “It is clear to us that Maine’s wind farms are really helping to protect public health, particularly our vulnerable populations of the elderly, the young, and those with respiratory issues, like asthma,” said Ed Miller, senior vice president for public policy of the American Lung Association of the Northeast. “We know that Maine has to make decisions now in order to protect itself from short and long-term harmful fossil fuel pollutants, and reduce our alarmingly high asthma rates.”

    “Clean, renewable energy sources like wind are a key solution to climate disruption which is already harming Maine’s environment, health and economy," said Glen Brand, Sierra Club Maine Chapter director. “By detailing the carbon and air pollution reductions from Maine’s wind power resources, this report provides further evidence of the strong environmental and health benefits of clean wind energy for Maine families.”

    Maine’s 2013 wind fleet generated 431 megawatts of capacity, which is enough to power approximately 61,000 Maine homes for one year. By 2020 when our wind farm output is expected to reach 1,700 megawatts of capacity it could power 276,000 Maine homes for an entire year – this is approximately 38 percent of Maine’s total households.

    By 2020 Maine’s wind farms offset the pollution of more than 400,000 automobiles – or nearly half of all the registered passenger vehicles in Maine.[2] About Wind for Maine: Wind for Maine is a growing coalition of Maine people, businesses and communities that support the responsible development and growth of wind energy in Maine as a way to strengthen the state’s economy, reduce our dependence of fossil fuel and protect the environment.

    More wind farms in Maine, or offshore floating on platforms designed by UMaine, mean more jobs with high wages. It takes large construction crews to build these turbines. Reed & Reed have started a special branch of their company just for errecting wind towers.

     [1] http://www.epa.gov/captrade/documents/power.pdf [2] http://quickfacts.census.gov/qfd/states/23000.html

  • Proposed Maine Solar Legislation Will Increase Access to Solar, Lower Electric Costs for All, Spur Job Creation

    GOlogic sustainable home in Belfast, Photo by Ramona du Houx

     By Ramona du Houx

    From homeowners in Aroostook county to a college in Waterville to a town garage in Wells, solar is providing Mainers with their own source of power that is secure, local, and affordable.

    However, representatives of solar businesses, towns and others, described the energy, cost, and job opportunities for solar that Maine is missing out on because it is the only state in the region that lacks any specific policies to encourage solar.

    In fact, Maine now has many significant regulatory and financial barriers that preventing residents from accessing solar. Before the LePage administration it was different as policies were geared to increase renewable energy sources, and as a result, an alterantive energy sector was sucessfully built in Maine.

    New analysis shows that the proposed law, LD 1263, would make it significantly easier for homes, businesses and others to invest in solar. In addition, an examination of the Maine Public Utilities Commissions (PUCs) value of solar analysis shows both that solar would offer significant benefits to Maine residents and ratepayers, and that current policies fall far short in treating solar owners fairly for the public benefits their solar provides.

    “Despite a national transformation in solar technology and costs over the last few years, Maine is in last place in the entire Northeast for the amount of solar installed per capita,” said Dylan Voorhees, Clean Energy Director for the Natural Resources Council of Maine. “Our lack of solar policies means we’re also falling behind in creating good-paying solar jobs, and failing to help towns, businesses, homeowners and others invest in this clean, limitless, native energy resource.”

    Maine has a very strong solar resource, as good as or better than Texas, Florida, and many other places with significantly more installed solar. In addition, overall prices for solar have come down 50 percent over just the last few years, unleashing a new era in solar installations across the country and in much of the Northeast, which struggles with higher electric rates.

    “The last time I checked there weren't any oil wells in Maine,” said David Foley, who owns a home in Northport with 12 solar panels that provides all the power his house and small business need. “When we can use clean, local energy sources cost-effectively, that just seems like common sense. When we can keep money that would otherwise go out of state in local hands, that seems like a good idea. When we can cut our expenses and generate some good-paying skilled jobs in this state, that seems like a win-win.” (Photo below at Maine's state house on April 16th)

    LD 1263 is estimated to spur approximately 200 megawatts (MW) of new solar in Maine by 2022. Maine has only 11 MW today, however Vermont already has 70 MW and Massachusetts installed 300 MW just last year. According to data from the Solar Foundation, states across the Northeast have an average of approximately 15 solar jobs per MW installed, meaning an additional 200 MW could mean nearly 3,000 direct solar jobs.

    “Just like most other large institutions, Thomas College is always seeking ways to lower our energy costs, as well as increasing sustainability,” said Chris Rhoda, Vice President for Information Services. “That’s why we are very proud of and pleased with our 175 KW rooftop solar array, installed in 2012. It’s one of the state’s largest solar projects, generating as much power last year as would be used by 25 homes. We hope many more Maine colleges, businesses and others can replicate our success with solar.”

    However for each story of a successful Maine home or business that is harnessing the free energy from the sun, there are dozens more missing out, because the state is doing so little to encourage solar investment, which endangers job growth in the industry.  The Baldacci administration had initiatives in place and gave rebates but the LePage administration favors importing hydroelectric energy from Canada, thereby hurting a growing renewable energy sector in Maine.

    “I grew up in central Maine then left the state for college,” said James Manzer, a solar installer from Emden with Revision.  “It’s a job that pays a good wage with benefits, and is a job that I feel proud to get up and do every day. I am excited to be a part of an industry that is poised to grow and I hope that I get to grow with it in Maine.”

    Cities like South Portland and Sanford have large capped landfills that they have been hoping to put to good use for solar, but have been stymied by regulatory barriers. Those barriers on community solar include an arbitrary limit on 10 people that can participate in a shared solar project, which LD 1263 would raise to at 50 participants (and potentially more.)

    “For the last few years the City of South Portland has been exploring a significant solar farm to benefit our residents, businesses and property tax payers,” said South Portland City Planner Tex Haeuser. “Although the City has a capped landfill that would be a perfect location for a solar installation, we’ve struggled with various economic barriers and limitations that make municipal solar needlessly difficult. We believe legislation like LD 1263 would make it much more feasible for South Portland to go forward with solar.”

    A new analysis conducted by NRCM and Revision Energy compared the financial returns on an identical solar installation if it were installed in Vermont, New Hampshire, Massachusetts and Maine. It found the payback period for a residential solar project would be in the range of 5-8 years in the first three states, all of which have policies to encourage solar, compared to 14 years in Maine. The contrasts were even greater for the modeled commercial solar project. That makes it much harder for Mainers to make the upfront investment in solar.

    However if LD 1263 were adopted, allowing homes, businesses and others to earn additional revenue in the form of solar credits, the payback period for residential solar in Maine would shrink nearly in half to eight years. (Payback for commercial installations would also be cut in half, to just over nine years.) Solar panels are typically warranted for at least 25-years.

    The PUC study estimated that the full value of solar electricity produced in Maine, averaged over 25-years would be 33 cents/kilowatt hour. This included a wide range of benefits to Maine people and ratepayers generally, such as lower costs of the electricity system (power plants and transmission lines), less volatile electricity prices, and reduced pollution. In fact, the study indicates that more than half of the value of each kilowatt-hour of solar now actually accrues to those other than the homeowner or business with solar.

    Those who invest in solar in Maine today receive net-metering credits worth only about 13 cents/kwh for a product that is estimated to be worth 33 cents.

    “The work of the legislature, PUC and solar stakeholders over the last two years has brought Maine to the place where our choice is clear: either we take action now to stop falling behind on solar or we make the default choice to rely on more expensive options,” said Voorhees. “Solar power provides meaningful benefits to all Mainers, including through lower energy costs. But Maine’s current policies limit access to solar, are unfair to those who do invest, and are keeping Maine from enjoying the lower energy costs, good jobs, and reduced air pollution that solar could bring us.”

  • UMaine Offshore Wind Power Research Featured in U.S. DOE’s Wind Vision Report

    The University of Maine’s offshore wind research efforts were highlighted in a recent report issued by the U.S. Department of Energy called “Wind Vision: A New Era For Wind Power in the United States.”

    The DeepCwind Consortium and the VolturnUS 1:8 are described in Chapter 2 of the report which details the important role universities play in leading research in the United States’ offshore wind industry.

    From the U.S. Department of Energy:

    The U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE’s) Wind and Water Power Technologies Office has conducted a comprehensive analysis to evaluate future pathways for the wind industry. Through a broad-based collaborative effort, the Wind Vision analysis includes four principal objectives:

    1. Documentation of the current state of wind power in the United States and identification of key technological and societal accomplishments over the decade leading up to 2014;
    2. Exploration of the potential pathways for wind power to contribute to the future electricity needs of the nation, including objectives such as reduced carbon emissions, improved air quality, and reduced water use;
    3. Quantification of costs, benefits, and other impacts associated with continued deployment and growth of U.S. wind power; and

    4. Identification of actions and future achievements that could support continued growth in the use and application of wind-generated electricity

  • Total proceeds for Maine from RGGI are over $62 million-last action brought in over $2.5 Million

    By Ramona du Houx

     

    The Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI) brought in $2,541,136. 51 for various weatherization, and energy efficiency programs, in Maine from the 27th cap-and-trade auction. RGGI is the nation’s first market-based cap-and-trade regulatory program to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. In total the program has made the state $62,221,516. 39 since the auctions began.

    Currently nine Northeastern and Mid-Atlantic states participate in RGGI, the nation’s first market-based regulatory program to reduce greenhouse gas pollution.

    Maine was instrumental in leading the effort to form RGGI during the Baldacci administration when David Littell was Commissioner of the Maine Department of Environmental Protection. Companies, stakeholders and environmental organizations testified on behalf of the proposed RGGI bill before it was voted on by the state’s legislature.

    “RGGI is important because it puts business, industry, along with the environment all on the same side. It was passed almost unanimously and with tremendous bipartisan support,” said former Governor John E. Baldacci. “It’s a model for other states and Federally.”

    The Obama administration has stated that RGGI is a successful model for a regional approach to cap-and-trade.

    “At the start of our third RGGI control period, we look forward to continuing RGGI’s success,” said Katie Dykes, Deputy Commissioner for Energy of the Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection, and a Vice-Chair of the RGGI, Inc. Board of Directors. “The region has set a national example by reducing power sector carbon pollution over 40 percent since 2005 while maintaining economic growth.”

    RGGI’s regional approach also includes continued work with Eastern Canadian Provinces that have become partners in the area’s approach to renewable energy, energy transmission and carbon capture methods. The Northeastern Regional Governor’s and Eastern Canadian Premier’s Conference, hosted and convened by Governor Baldacci, held in Bar Harbor, Maine, in 2008, specifically addressed a comprehensive regional approach to energy concerns and how states and provinces could best create jobs, energy security, and savings for residents by working together. RGGI was on the agenda.

    Now, with more data, RGGI can show how the program has benefited the region economically.

    “RGGI’s market-based mechanism does more than set a clear and enforceable cap on carbon dioxide pollution – RGGI also delivers environmental, economic, and consumer benefits to the RGGI states with wise allowance investments that save ratepayers money and reduce emissions,” said Littell, a Commissioner of the Maine Public Utilities Commission.

    In Maine the some of the funds generated from RGGI go to programs at Efficiency Maine to benefit businesses transform their workplaces to become energy efficient. Some companies have transitioned their business to energy efficient ways, in part, because of the boost RGGI funds gave them.

    In 2005 seven states Maine, Delaware, New Jersey, New York, Connecticut, Vermont, and New Hampshire signed a “Memorandum of Understanding” committing these states to move forward with RGGI. Special provisions were made in the MOU for Massachusetts and Rhode Island to join the effort at any time prior to January 1, 2008, which they did. Subsequently New Jersey’s Gov. Chris Christie removed the state from RGGI in 2011. While the remaining nine RGGI member states continue to take in revenues from RGGI auctions of carbon dioxide (CO2) allowances New Jersey has missed out on these revenues.

    The nine states participating in RGGI announced the results of their 27th auction of carbon dioxide (CO2) allowances on March, 13, 2015.

     15,272,670 CO2 allowances were sold at the auction at a clearing price of $5.41. Allowances sold represent 100 percent of the CO2 allowances offered for sale by the nine states. Bids for the CO2 allowances ranged from $2.05 to $12.50 per allowance.

    “A hallmark of RGGI’s success is the auctioning of allowances and the strategic investments of the auction proceeds,” said Kelly Speakes-Backman, Commissioner of the Maryland Public Service Commission and Chair of the RGGI, Inc. Board of Directors. “For more than six years these investments have helped us build a more resilient energy infrastructure, a cleaner environment and stronger economy for our region.”

    The auction generated more than $82 million for reinvestment in strategic energy and consumer benefit programs, including energy efficiency, renewable energy, direct bill assistance, and GHG abatement programs. Cumulative proceeds from all RGGI CO2 allowance auctions now exceed $2 billion dollars.

    In 2014 RGGI states updated their systems, making key revisions.

    “Today’s results demonstrate that the revisions we made last year have strengthened this market-based program to reduce carbon pollution,” said Joe Martens, Commissioner of the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation and a Vice-Chair of the RGGI, Inc. Board of Directors. “Emissions continue to decline and the carbon market is functioning smoothly.

  • PUC gives in to LePage, reverses wind energy contracts

    Kibby Wind Farm, in Western Maine, opened in 2010 and has given thousands back to the communities it serves with programs and TIFF's- tax incentives.  Photo by Ramona du Houx

    By Ramona du Houx

    Top Maine lawmakers in the State House denounced the Public Utilities Commission (PUC), the state's energy regulator that is mandated not to make political decisions,  for caving to Governor Paul LePage’s demands to reopen bids on two approved wind contracts. 

    The three-member commission, which is supposed to be independent, reversed its decision in a 2-1 vote. The PUC previously approved contract terms with SunEdison and NextEra for wind projects in Hancock County and Somerset County. That approval allowed the parties to begin negotiating final contracts with Central Maine Power Co. and Emera Maine. A lot of work they never would have undertaken if they new LePage was going to pull the plug on. The contracts, which were approved two months ago, would have helped to lower electric costs for Maine consumers by $69 million and create jobs.

    “The Public Utilities Commission is meant to serve the public’s interest – not the governor’s ideology. Maine should be open for all businesses – not just the businesses the governor favors,” said House Speaker Mark Eves. “He is throwing away real energy savings and jobs that Maine needs. Just as we saw when he meddled with StatOil, he is putting hundreds of jobs and millions of dollars in investment in our state at risk.”

    Newly appointed PUC Commissioner Carlie McLean - former legal counsel to LePage  - joined the Commission’s Chair and LePage appointee Mark Vannoy to reverse the decision. Commissioner David Littell voted against the re-opening the bid.

    “I’m disappointed to see Commissioner McLean overturn a decision with so little evidence and put future energy business contracts in jeopardy,” said Mark Dion, House Chair of the Legislature’s Energy Utilities and Technology Committee. “This creates an unpredictable environment for future business contracts.”

    According to a letter from LePage to the Commission obtained by MPBN,  LePage attempted to persuade the commissioners to ignore language in the law that directs them to consider new renewable energy sources.

    LePage wrote, "I request that you expand your current request for proposals to include any clean resource, including existing hydropower and nuclear, and review whether these potential contracts could have benefits for the ratepayers in Maine and our broader economy." 

    Nearly 50 individuals and businesses submitted comments warning that re-opening the bid would create economic uncertainty.

    “Shame on the PUC and Gov. LePage for once again yanking the welcome mat out from under two substantial businesses. Broken promises like these do nothing to reassure business that their capital is welcome here. In fact, decisions like these tarnish our reputation and scare off future opportunities,” said State Senator Dawn HIll.

     Statoil, which promised to invest $120 million to develop offshore wind technology in Maine took its investments overseas to Scotland, because LePage pushed through legislation that took away a contract Statoil had made with the PUC.

  • Gov. LePage attempts to sabotage two wind energy contracts after PUC reshuffle

    The Christening of the University of Maine’s VolturnUS floating offshore wind turbine and platform in Brewer, Maine in 2013. The groundbreaking technology is the first of it’s kind in the Americas. Gov. Puaul LePage’s switch in renewable energy policies make it more difficult to find investors for these kinds of projects that could be deployed worldwide bringing thousands of jobs to Maine. Photo by Ramona du Houx

    By Ramona du Houx

    The Maine Public Utilities Commission is planning to reconsider two proposed wind projects shortly after a few changes in the commission's members and leadership. These long-term wind energy contracts would bring new business to the state and potentially lower electric prices for Maine consumers by $69 million. They would also energize rural communities in Hancock and Somerset counties that are still struggling from the Great Recession.

    The Public Utilities Commission (PUC) plans on Wednesday to vote on whether it should reassess these two projects that had already received initial approval.

    “Remember, uncertainty is the enemy of investment and the PUC should not be creating a shroud of uncertainty around this and future energy RFPs. Quite simply, it would be bad public policy. It’s not easy attracting investment dollars to Maine and creating a practice of reneging on commitments will only make it more difficult,” said Jackson Parker, president and CEO of Reed & Reed, a Woolwich-based wind development company.

    The commission's membership has changed since the initial vote was made in December of 2014, with former Chairman Tom Welch being replaced by Carlie McLean, Gov. Paul LePage's former chief legal counsel, and Mark Vannoy is now the new chairman.

    The move, which has created new concerns for Maine's wind industry, is considered unusual. The PUC officially said it wants to reexamine the projects because of energy market changes.

    "It seems like there is political interference underway," said Jeremy Payne, executive director of the Maine Renewable Energy Association.

    The newly-structured PUC is likely to reopen the bidding process for the contracts, a move that could further damage the state’s reputation and scare away future projects. In 2013 Gov. LePage essentially ended a major multi-million dollar deal with Norwegian company, Statoil, which promised to invest $120 million to develop offshore wind technology in Maine. Statoil had begun their plans for an off-shore wind farm, in Maine, having received the PUC green light to move forward. But unexpected policy changes pushed by LePage ended the deal. Statoil took its investments to Scotland, leaving behind unfulfilled jobs and doubt about Maine’s renewable energy policy stability.

    “The governor is putting at risk strong investments in renewable energy that could improve our economy and lower energy prices for Maine businesses and families. He is also sending the wrong message to potential investors, businesses and job-seekers that we should be trying to attract to Maine,” said Maine Democratic Party Chairman Phil Bartlett, who also was a State Senator and helped establish renewable energy policy. “It would be very troubling if the PUC caved to political pressure and reversed its decision. The PUC is an independent agency that should follow the law and not the governor's ideological campaign against renewable energy.”

     

  • Solar workshops in Belfast and Liberty, Maine

    Representatives from ReVision Energy, Maine’s leading solar energy installer, will be hosting upcoming solar workshops to be held by the company in both Belfast and Liberty. The company installed the largest solar array in the state at Thomas College.

    The focus of the workshops will be Solar Energy for the Homeowner. Guests will have the opportunity to learn how grid-tied solar electric (photovoltaic) systems, especially when paired with heat pump technology for supplemental space heating and water heating, are a cost-effective way to immediately reduce fuel usage. Current system pricing, financial incentives and loan programs, and current solar technology in Maine will also be discussed.

    The talks, led by ReVision Energy branch manager John Luft, will be held on Tuesday, February 24 from 6:30-8pm at Waterfall Arts, 256 High Street in Belfast; a second presentation will be held at ReVision Energy’s office at 91 West Main Street in Liberty on Saturday, March 7th from 10am to noon. While there, guests are encouraged to see the building’s solar hot water and solar electric systems, as well as the cord wood boiler and air source heat pump used for space heating.

    ReVision Energy, with locations in Liberty and Portland, ME and Exeter, NH, has installed more than 3,500 residential and commercial solar energy systems across northern New England, including installations at the Lincolnville Community Library, College of the Atlantic, and the City of Belfast fire station.

    Guests are encouraged to come by with questions and their electric bills, and will have the opportunity to sign up for a free solar site evaluation; these events are free and open to the public, and all are welcome.

    More information is available at www.revisionenergy.com or by calling (207) 589-4171.

  • Senator King promotes clean energy solutions to climate change at Maine ski resort


    Photo: Senator King promotes clean energy solutions to climate change at Maine ski resort

    Ski Resort Showcases Investments in Solar, Biomass, Efficiency to Lower Costs and Emissions


     By Ramona du Houx


    On February 16,  U.S. Senator Angus King toured clean energy projects, including an 803 panel solar installation, wood pellet-fired heating system, and an electric car charging station, at the Mt. Abram ski area. King said clean energy solutions like those in operation at Mt. Abram are critical ways to lower energy costs and reduce climate-changing carbon emissions.

    Last November, Mt. Abram began operation of a 245 kilowatt solar array to provide a significant portion of its power, making it the second-largest solar installation at a North American ski area. This follows major investments in energy efficiency to reduce oil and electricity use, as well as a biomass heating system and electric vehicle charging stations for skiers.

    “From our Downeast coastal waters to right here in Greenwood, people in Maine are already experiencing the worrisome impacts of climate change. It’s a serious and substantial issue that threatens peoples’ livelihoods, local industries, and the very health of our state’s economy,” said Senator King, a member of the Senate Climate Action Task Force.

    King announced that he and fellow Maine Senator Susan Collins are introducing legislation to provide federal tax credits for biomass heating systems, similar to federal tax credits now available for other small scale renewable energy sources, like solar and geothermal.

    “Fortunately, Mt. Abram is leading the way by demonstrating that investing in clean and renewable energy technologies not only makes sense for our environment, but also makes sense for business,” said King. “I will continue to advocate for policies, like the BTU Act, that encourage green energy development, reduce carbon emissions, and lower energy bills for people across the state.”

    “We’re very excited about our new solar facility as a way to improve our sustainability and control energy costs,” said Mt. Abram owner Matt Hancock. “We’ve done a lot with energy efficiency to reduce waste and lower our use of oil and electricity. The logical next step is to take some control over where we get our power from. Predictable energy costs mean a lot to a business like ours.”

    Some of the clean energy and sustainability initiatives at Mt. Abram completed and in the works include:

    ·      High efficiency snow-making equipment (2010), aided by a grant from Efficiency Maine funded from the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI). RGGI is the East's Coasts cap-n-trade carbon emission program that has brought millions to the state.

    ·     A biomass boiler to heat the base lodge (2011), with locally-sourced wood pellets from Maine Energy Systems.

    ·     Electric vehicle charging stations for two vehicles (2012), to provide free charging for skiers.

    ·     A new high efficiency water pump station with variable speed drives that quadrupled snowmaking coverage (2014), aided by an incentive from Efficiency Maine.

    ·     A 245 kilowatt, 803 panel solar array to produce 2/3 of the area’s electricity (2014), aided by a grant from the U.S. Rural Development Authority.

    ·    Single-stream recycling (in process).

    ·    Super-efficient snowmaking guns that use zero compressed air (in testing).


    These investments have reduced Mt. Abram’s annual emissions of climate disrupting carbon by more than 760,000 pounds of CO2.

    “Obviously we’re having a great winter so far and that’s great news for our business, our community, and the families coming here to ski” said Hancock. “But we’re fully aware of the threat of climate change to our winters, so we’re pleased to play our part to help ensure families can continue to ski here for generations to come.”

    The huge solar array prominently greets visitors to the ski area.  The Natural Resources Council of Maine, which helped facilitate the tour, is promoting state solar policies that will reduce barriers and increase access to solar so that more homes and businesses can reap the benefits of solar power. Prices for solar have fallen 50 percent making it now an economical energy option.

    “Solar power has undergone a transformation in this country over the last several years, making homegrown power generated on a roof or field in Maine an economical energy option,” said Dylan Voorhees, Clean Energy Director for NRCM. “The beauty and the challenge of solar is that it has no fuel costs. Unlike buying power from the grid, all of the costs are up-front, but once installed the power flows free for decades. Maine must help more Maine homes and businesses get access to solar by catching up on our solar policies.”

    Maine is lags behind in capturing the benefits of solar, because it is the only state in New England with no specific policies to promote solar power. As a result, Maine has the second lowest amount of installed solar capacity per capita of the 11 Northeastern states, and has the second lowest number of solar jobs per capita in New England.

    Maine is leading in some other areas, however, including through its participation in the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI) started with the Baldacci administration. RGGI limits carbon pollution from power plants and raises money to fund energy efficiency investments that provide a significant economic benefit to the state and region. For example, RGGI helped to fund the incentive Mt. Abram received for snowmaking equipment.

    As of December 2013, RGGI had helped Mainers achieve $257 million in lifetime energy savings. RGGI also positions Maine to be in compliance with the EPA’s proposed Clean Power Plan, which would limit power plant carbon emissions nation-wide.

  • UMaine Completes 56m Wind Blade Test for International Wind Energy Company

    The University of Maine’s Advanced Structures and Composites Center completed static strength testing of a 56-meter (184-foot) wind turbine blade for Gamesa, a global technological leader in the wind industry, based in Spain. The blade was manufactured in North America and delivered to the University of Maine in late August of 2014.

    In the testing, the blade was subjected to loads in four directions to prove the structure met international strength standards.

    The Gamesa blade was the largest tested to date in the UMaine Offshore Wind Laboratory. The full-service facility offers testing and material characterization services for every stage of blade development. The lab, which opened in 2011, was funded by the National Institute of Standards and Technology through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, the Maine Technology Asset Fund through the Maine Technology Institute, and a 2010 Maine bond.

    “We are honored to have served one of the world’s leading wind turbine manufacturers,” said Habib Dagher, director of the UMaine Composites Center. “This is the biggest structure we have tested to date, extending nearly 80 percent of the length of our blade test lab.”

    The University of Maine’s Advanced Structures and Composites Center’s  9,300-square-meter, $110 million, ISO 17025-accredited laboratory has a successful history of partnering with industry, completing over 500 product development and testing projects in the past five years.

    “Our engineers, technicians and students did a great job designing, building and operating the equipment needed to safely rotate and test the 56-meter blade,” said John Arimond, the business development executive with the UMaine Composites Center. Arimond joined UMaine in 2013 after 28 years in industry, most recently serving as CTO of a New Zealand-based manufacturer of 500-kilowatt wind turbines.

    Juan Diego Díaz, marketing director for Gamesa, said his company is excited to be partnering with UMaine for blade testing. “North America was a logical place to conduct this important step in our product development, supporting our growing commercial opportunities in that region and globally. We were impressed by the testing quality, safety and attention to detail provided by the UMaine team in successfully testing our blade,” said Díaz.

    With 20 years experience and more than 30,000 megawatts installed in 46 countries, Gamesa is a global technological leader in the wind industry. The company is perennially ranked among the world’s leading wind turbine manufacturers and it has been present in the North American market for more than 10 years.



  • Maine's clear energy choice

    Kibby Wind Farm in Western Maine, photo by Ramona du Houx

    Editorial by Jeremy N. Payne

    Maine has a tremendous opportunity to reduce the cost of energy and protect the environment by investing in and supporting the development of clean, renewable energy such as wind power.

    Despite low-by-comparison prices for oil, electricity rates in Maine are going up, right as winter starts to really bear down on the state.

    Those price hikes are due in part to the fact that Maine — and all of New England — rely heavily upon natural gas for the majority of electricity production and, like all fossil fuels, the price of natural gas is volatile.

    It fluctuates with changes in supply and demand in other parts of the world, which is why it’s impossible to predict with certainty what will happen with natural gas prices in the future.

    Maine needs is to protect itself against price spikes and changes in the world energy market.

    The best way to do that is by investing and supporting clean, renewable energy — such as wind power.

    Unlike natural gas, wind power can protect energy consumers because it can guarantee prices as part of long-term contracts.

    With no fuel costs, wind power allows the people who operate Maine’s electrical grid to lock in low prices for 20 years. No matter what happens with the price of oil or gas, no matter how cold it gets or how long winter lasts, that electricity at that lower rate is guaranteed.

    And the benefits go beyond lower prices.

    Renewable energy, such as wind power, can reduce pollution by displacing higher cost and dirtier forms of energy. That’s good for the climate, and it’s good for people’s health.

    According to the American Lung Association, the burning of fossil fuel is a major source of air pollution and a cause of lung cancer. This is especially true in Maine, where we end up being the tail pipe for many other Midwest states’ burning of coal.

    Supporting the continued development of wind farms also is good for our economy and job creation.

    A recent Maine Technology Institute (“MTI”) report, “Charting Maine’s Technology Potential,” found that alternative energy and turbines are one of our fastest growing sectors.

    MTI determined that this sector increased jobs by nearly 12 percent from 2007-2012.

    In addition, companies involved in renewable energy have invested more than $1.5 billion in Maine in the last eight years, which has directly benefited more than 750 Maine businesses, and has provided important local dollars in our rural communities.

    A great example of this local benefit is happening in the town of Roxbury, which hosts the Record Hill wind farm. Roxbury residents receive checks for $111 every three months, and their tax rate in 2012 dropped by 59 percent thanks to the investment in wind power.

    Soon, Orland may be able to benefit from locally produced wind energy as well.

    In 2013, the town overwhelmingly voted in favor of a three-turbine wind power project that would follow the strictest state, local and federal regulations.

    In total, the project would generate enough clean electricity to power 2,700 average Maine homes and it would provide at least $150,000 a year in property tax revenue that can be used to improve local schools, fix local roads and invest in the community.

    At a time when state and local budgets are increasingly under pressure to cut costs, commercial investments such as the one in Roxbury and the proposed project in Orland create new clean energy jobs and help towns hold down property taxes for everyone.

    We have a choice in Maine: Are we going to allow ourselves to be overly reliant on one source of energy? Or, will we make enough room at the energy table for Maine-made, clean, renewable energy that provides jobs, opportunity, local tax revenues and protects our environment?

    The benefits are clear — as clear as the air and water we all want to protect. Renewable energy, including wind power, is the kind of investment our state should welcome.

    Jeremy N. Payne is executive director of the Maine Renewable Energy Association 

  • Ramona du Houx exhibits lightgraphs at Berry’s in Waterville, Maine

     

    By Morgan Rogers

     

    The inside gallery at Berry's Stationers 153 Main St, downtown Waterville, features the artwork, Ramona du Houx, until December 30, 2014. 

    Ramona du Houx creates fine art photography that looks like watercolor paintings evoking mystery and a sense of wonder. Many find them nostalgic and some mystical.

    Ramona is currently represented by Gallery Storks of Tokyo, Japan and is also a member of the Maine Artist Collaborative where she exhibits regularly at the Constellation Gallery in Portland, Maine.

     “For me art reflects where we live in our communities, as well as where an artist is in their heart, mind and soul,” said Ramona. “In 1979 I began to paint with my camera to depict the interconnectedness of nature. I took the initial results to the Museum of Modern Art in New York, where they recorded them long ago. The continuing results have been unpredictable, intriguing, and thought provoking.” 

    The watercolor technique is always a challenge.

    “I never know exactly what the results will be, that’s the exciting part of the creation,” said du Houx. “I believe every photograph has an audience, someone the work will speak to personally.”

    Berry’s show space offers local artists a friendly venue to exhibit their work and a way to continue to grow Waterville’s creative economy. With Colby College’s new museum, and Common Street Arts, Waterville is gaining attention as a place to visit for art.

    “We believe in our community and holding shows for artists can help grow the creative economy of Waterville,” said Michael, owner of Berry's Stationers.

    Dream Sail by Ramona du Houx

    Customers rely on the quality work of the Berry's Stationers art suppliers and framers. They entrust the craftspeople who work there with precious mementos to create a unique way to display it for their lifetimes.

    Berry's Stationers team matches mat colors and frames for any job they work on and they always take the time to listen to customers to ensure they get what they are looking for. Michael bought the business back in the 70’s. He’s a perfectionist in his framing craft and an avid photographer.

    "Matching up someone’s art with the right mat and frame gives me a lot of pleasure. Finding out exactly what the customer needs and then succeeding makes it so worthwhile,” said Michael. 

    While other framers have closed their doors due to big box stores and chains, The Berry's Stationers continues. The quality customer service and extra care he and his father take in framing creates prized items for many people.

    Berry's Stationers is open Monday thru Friday from 9:00am - 5:00pm. And Saturday from 9:00-3.00pm. And until Christmas they are open on Sundays.

    For more of Ramona’s photography please visit: HERE 

     

  • New Maine Report: Wind energy, tax credits needed to combat global warming

    Article and photo of Kibby Mt. by Ramona du Houx

     Wind energy is on the rise in Maine and is providing large environmental benefits for the state, according to a new report released December 4, 2014 by Environment Maine. Maine’s wind energy avoided 1 million metric tons of climate-altering carbon pollution in 2013, which is equivalent to eliminating the pollution from more than 110,000 cars. The report also finds that Maine has the potential to obtain 30 percent of its energy from wind power, enough to avoid pollution from over 2 million cars.

    “Wind power can replace the dirty energy sources of the past and the pollution that comes with them,” said Laura Dorle, Campaign Organizer for Environment Maine. “This analysis comes at the same time as lawmakers jockey over the fate of important federal wind energy tax credits that were unfortunately were allowed to expire last year. We need Senators Susan Collins and Angus King to act now to get these tax credits extended through next year, an important step to ensuring a clean energy future." 

    Continued, rapid development of wind energy would allow the renewable resource to supply 30 percent of the nation’s electricity by 2030, providing more than enough carbon reductions to meet the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s proposed Clean Power Plan.

     “Wind energy isn’t just good for the environment and our health, it is Maine’s economic future,” said Paul Williamson of the Maine Ocean and Wind Industry Initiative. “The wind industry has invested more than $1 billion in Maine over the last 10 years, putting more than 700 local Maine businesses to work across all 16 counties. That represents thousands of real jobs for local people. And the industry is poised to invest almost $2 billion new dollars in Maine during the next three years alone. Wind is Maine’s future.”

    Wind power projects such as the Mars Hill Project near the town of Mars Hill in Aroostook County already produced enough energy in 2013 to power over 96,000 homes.  Moreover, the analysis predicts offshore wind will expand significantly in Maine over the next 15 years, with the capacity to produce enough power for over 1 million homes.

    “Maine needs a secure and diverse supply of homegrown energy resources to power our state. We also need to put more people back to work. Wind energy delivers in both of these areas.” said Don Berry of the Maine IBEW Union.

    America has the potential to power itself 10 times over with wind that blows both over land and off the East Coast.

    Under the John Baldacci administration clean energy initiatives helped grow the wind, wood, wave and solar power in the state. The Governor was and continues to be a strong supporter of the University of Maine's wind energy programs that have created the first offshore floating wind turbine and platform in North America. Over 40 nuclear power plants of energy can be captured from Maine's offshore wind sources, making the state an ideal location for wind farms at sea. And UMaine can help Maine companies build offshore wind farms. In addition the Baldacci administration worked with the legislature and Public Utilities Commission to establish strong goals for clean energy increasing the state’s renewable energy portfolio.

    The report, More Wind, Less Warming, comes as days after the comment period closed for the Clean Power Plan, which would reduce pollution from power plants in the U.S. by 30 percent by 2030. Over 8 million Americans including 50,000 Mainers voiced their support for the plan and are ready to act on climate.

     “This report shows that wind power is an important tool to combat global warming and protect marine resources like shellfish,” said State Senator Chris Johnson who serves on the Joint Standing Committee on Marine Resources as well as the Ocean Acidification Commission in the Maine Legislature. “That’s why we should affirm the Clean Power Plan, and reinstate the tax credits that can spur more wind development here in Maine.”

    Additionally State Senator Rebecca Millett voiced her support for expanded wind power in Maine stating, “The acidification of our ocean waters and resulting impact on Maine's important fishing livelihoods speaks volumes to the need for us to get serious about carbon free emission energy sources. Maine is perfectly poised to be a central player in this effort with offshore wind production and is a win-win by helping to protect its important fishing industry and creating new jobs.”

     

  • 259 Lawmakers show support for EPA rulings - 29 are from Maine

    Photo and article by Ramona du Houx

    Two hundred fifty-nine state legislators from across the nation wrote a letter to the Environmental Protection Agency supporting the EPA’s efforts to reduce carbon dioxide pollution and urging the EPA to increase its renewable energy and efficiency goals.

    Twenty-nine lawmakers from Maine signed the letter.

    “We believe the Clean Power Plan could achieve even more pollution reductions with higher renewable energy and energy efficiency goals for states, and we support EPA moving in that direction,” read the letter submitted by state legislators. The 2030 EPA targets for renewable energy generation are below what has already been enacted in 17 states.

    “Clean energy is an American success story,” said National Caucus of Environmental Legislators (NCEL) Board Chair Rep. Pricey Harrison from North Carolina. “It is one of the fastest growing economic sectors in the United States and already employs 360,000 jobs in the U.S., far more than the coal industry’s 87,000 – solar alone employs 143,000 people and grew 20 percent last year.” 

    In 2009, the EPA issued an endangerment finding for carbon dioxide, which was affirmed by the Supreme Court – meaning that carbon dioxide pollution was ruled to be a threat to human health, like arsenic and mercury.  As part of the development of the standards to reduce carbon pollution, the EPA is seeking public comment on the proposed pollution limits. 

    In the United States, electric power plants emit about 2.2 billion tons of carbon dioxide each year, or roughly 40 percent of the nation's total emissions – our single largest source. By implementing carbon emission standards the EPA expects to reduce nationwide carbon dioxide emissions from the power sector by approximately 30 percent from 2005 levels by 2030.

    NCEL President Emeritus Maryland Delegate James Hubbard requested that NCEL circulate the letter below to lawmakers.

    “The goal of the National Caucus of Environmental Legislators is to provide our members with the information they need to promote sound environmental policy at the state level,” said Hubbard. “Our members lead the charge to protect the air we breathe and the water we drink.” 

    Founded in 1996 by legislators as a resource for legislators, the National Caucus of Environmental Legislators is a nonpartisan network of more than 1,000 legislators from all 50 states. NCEL’s goal is to provide its members with the information they need to defend existing environmental safeguards, advance environmental protections, and to elevate the voice of state legislators in ongoing federal policy debates.

     

    ###

     The letter:

     

    December 1, 2014

     Administrator Gina McCarthy

    Environmental Protection Agency

    1200 Pennsylvania Avenue,

    N.W. Washington, DC  20460

     

    Dear Administrator McCarthy:

    We the undersigned state legislators would like to applaud the Environmental Protection Agency for taking action to reduce the greenhouse gas emissions causing climate change from existing power plants by at least 30 percent nationally from 2005 levels by 2030. 

    Clean energy is an American success story. Industry data shows it is one of the fastest growing economic sectors in the United States and already employs far more people than the coal industry. In this context, it would be very helpful for EPA to develop and distribute comparative data on the job impact of new technology development and installation versus the potential job impact of reduced use of coal.   

    We believe the Clean Power Plan could achieve even more pollution reductions with higher renewable energy and energy efficiency goals for states, and we support EPA moving in that direction.

    The four pillar strategy of 1) increasing generation efficiency at existing power plants by 6 percent, 2) dispatching natural gas combined cycle power plants in place of coal, 3) increasing zero-emissions power sources, and 4) relying on end-use, demand response energy efficiency programs, is a solid start to moving our nation away from being dependent on dirty energy sources.

    We appreciate the flexibility the EPA has given the states to adopt emission reduction measures other than those used to set the state targets. In addition, our ability to collaborate and develop plans on a multi-state basis, ability to choose how to meet the goal through whatever collection of measures that reflects our particular circumstances and policy objectives, and support for building on existing reduction programs, provides states the flexibility to effectively meet and hopefully exceed our carbon reduction goals.  

    Democrats and Republicans are in rare agreement on the issue. A June 2014 Washington Post-ABC News Poll found 57 percent of Republicans, 76 percent of independents and 79 percent of Democrats support state-level limits on greenhouse gas emissions.

    We stand ready to assist your efforts to reduce carbon dioxide pollution to protect our families, communities and nation.

    Sincerely,

    All 259 lawmakers including these from Maine: 

    Senator Stan Gerzofsky, Maine

    Representative Henry Beck, Maine

    Representative Roberta B. Beavers, Maine

    Representative Sheryl Briggs, Maine

    Representative Katherine Cassidy, Maine

    Representative Janice Cooper, Maine

    The Honorable Alex Cornell du Houx, Maine

    Representative Mick Devin, Maine

    Representative James Dill, Maine

    Representative Richard Farnsworth, Maine

    Representative Gay Grant, Maine

    Representative Brian Hubbell, Maine

    Representative Denise Harlow, Maine

    The Honorable Jon Hinck, Maine

    Representative Chuck Kruger, Maine

    Representative Walter Kumiega, Maine

    Representative Karen Kusiak, Maine

    Representative Thomas Longstaff, Maine

    Representative Jane Pringle, Maine

    Representative Diane Russell, Maine

    Representative Sharon Treat, Maine

    Representative Terry Morrison, Maine

    Representative William Noon, Maine

    Representative Ryan Tipping-Spitz, Maine

    Representative Deane Rykerson, Maine

    Representative John Schneck, Maine

    Representative Mary Nelson, Maine

    Representative Linda Sanborn, Maine

    Representative Robert Saucier, Maine

     

  • First Circuit Court determines young adults remain covered under ACA in Maine

    The state of Maine must provide Medicaid coverage to several thousand low income 19- and-20-year-old young adults according to a ruling by the First Circuit Court of Appeals. 

    "We deny the petition for review and find no constitutional violation," wrote the Court in it’s determination.

    Maine Attorney General Janet Mills agreed that the federal government's action was appropriate.

    Maine tried to drop the young adult coverage in 2012, but the federal Department of Health and Human Services disapproved. That’s when the state petitioned for review on constitutional grounds.

    The First Circuit found that a state's ability to set conditions of eligibility for participation in a federal health insurance program is "not a core sovereign state function."

    Furthermore the federal Health and Human Services Secretary said that the state was a violation of the Affordable Care Act, which requires states accepting Medicaid funds to maintain their eligibility standards for children until 2019. 

    "Maine has covered these young adults for over 20 years, and dropping the coverage now clearly violates the provisions of the AffordableCare Act," said Congresswoman Chellie Pingree.  "This is good news for thousands of low-income 19- and 20-year olds who faced theloss of health care coverage." 

    Pingree wrote to HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebellius in 2012 urging the rejection of the state's waiver, saying "elimination of Medicaid coverage would not only adversely affect the health and wellbeing of Maine residents and upset Maine’s local economies, it would also be in direct violation of the maintenance of effort requirement, even in the wake of the Supreme Court’s ruling."

  • Climate change agreement with China can't be stopped by Congress - RGGI points the way forward

    unnamed Under a new deal, unveiled in Beijing, China by President Barack Obama and President Xi, China, committed to cap its output of carbon pollution by 2030.

    The Chinese government also promised to increase its use of zero-emission energy sources, such as wind and solar power, to 20 percent by 2030. The United States agreed to double the pace of the cuts in its emissions, reducing them to between 26 percent and 28 percent below 2005 levels by 2025.

    The agreement between the US and China to lower greenhouse-gas output faced a wall of opposition stateside from Republicans in Washington, who threatened to use their control of Congress to stop the plan. But the White House made it clear that the US can deliver the promised reductions in greenhouse gas emissions through existing regulations, including the Environmental Protection Agency’s new rules for power plants, which are the core of President Obama’s climate agenda.

    Under the Baldacci administration Maine helped spearhead the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, RGGI, which is the first cap-n-trade carbon reduction plan on the East Coast. RGGI has become a model for carbon reduction in the USA. REGGI generates savings in each of the states participating. In Maine those funds are being used to help with energy saving initiatives for consumers as well as businesses. To date RGGI has earned $257 million for these programs.

    President Obama hailed the deal at a joint press conference with his Chinese counterpart at the Great Hall of the People. “As the world’s largest economies and greatest emitters of greenhouse gases we have special responsibility to lead the global effort against climate change,” he said. “I am proud we can announce a historic agreement. I commend President Xi, his team and the Chinese government for the commitment they are making to slow, peak and then reverse China’s carbon emissions.”

    President Xi said: “We agreed to make sure international climate change negotiations will reach agreement as scheduled at the Paris conference in 2015 and agreed to deepen practical cooperation on clean energy, environmental protection and other areas.”

    China faces some technical challenges to reaching the targets.

    “It will require China to deploy an additional 800-1,000 gigawatts of nuclear, wind, solar and other zero-emission generation capacity by 2030 – more than all the coal-fired power plants that exist in China today and close to total current electricity generation capacity in the United States,” according to the White House.

    Diplomats said they hoped that the US-China deal would provide momentum to climate negotiations.

    Officials are to meet in Lima at the end of November to begin the last phase of negotiations for a global deal to cut emissions in Paris. The European Union has already endorsed a binding 40 percent greenhouse gas emissions reduction target by 2030.

  • RGGI has generated $257 million in energy savings for Maine

    By Ramona du Houx

     During a “citizen hearing” today in Portland, local health experts, marine fisheries experts, clean energy leaders and conservation advocates, highlighted the public health and economic benefits of the EPA’s new carbon pollution standards for power plants, and urged Maine’s elected leaders, including Senators Collins and King to pledge support for the EPA’s Clean Power Plan. They also highlighted how the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative has helped grow Maine's clean energy economy.

    “The Administration’s carbon pollution standards establish the first ever national limits on industrial carbon pollution from power plants and take an essential step toward protecting public health from the harmful effects of climate change,” said Dr.Lani Graham, Maine Medical Association. “Ignoring the impacts of industrial carbon pollution puts us all, especially children, at risk from asthma attacks and other health impacts associated with air pollution.”

    “The sooner we implement the elements of the EPA Power Plant proposal the lower the costs in terms of money, human health, and the environment,” said Casco Baykeeper Joe Payne. “As advocates for Casco Bay we know that lowering emissions from power plants will help protect the health of the bay, the people in the watershed, and the coastal economy.”

     Maine and the Northeast states are well positioned to benefit from the EPA plan because of the previous adoption of carbon pollution limits under the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI). RGGI has generated $257 million in energy savings for Maine homeowners, businesses and industry as revenues from the program are funneled into energy efficiency initiatives.

    “If we do not cut carbon emissions now, particularly from power plants, the largest single emissions source, it becomes much more difficult and much more expensive, if not impossible, to protect us from the worst ravages of climate change,” said Tom Tietenberg, Professor of Economics, Emeritus, Coby College and former board member, Efficiency Maine Trust, set up by the Baldacci administration after they transitioned the state into RGGI.

    “The EPA is glad to hear from the public about our proposed plan to cut greenhouse gas emissions from existing power plants under the Clean Power Plan”, said Curt Spalding, Regional Administrator of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s New England office who presented at the event. “The plan is a commonsense, flexible way to protect public health, spur innovation, and create jobs.  On behalf of our kids and future generations, we have a moral obligation to act.”

      The Clean Power Plan lets other states reduce emissions, in ways similar to Maine’s RGGI program, which has significantly reduced emissions while boosting the economy and helping businesses to lower their energy costs and become much more competitive.

    “We view EPA's new rules as a milestone in our nation's struggle to wean itself off energy sources that pollute our air and change our climate,” said Zach Anchors, Chair, Voter Education Brigade. “Curbing carbon emissions is an essential step towards minimizing the impact of climate change and keeping Maine's air as clean as it should be. The citizen hearing being held by NRCM and the Brigade is a valuable opportunity for Mainers to learn how the EPA's new rules will impact our state and help to address the global environment challenge we currently face.” 

    Among the largest beneficiaries of RGGI-funded energy efficiency programs are Madison Paper, Bath Iron Works, Hannaford Brothers, and the University of Southern Maine. In addition, one third of RGGI funds are now being used for home weatherization programs to help several thousand homeowners each year.

    The hearing comes just weeks after the EPA announced its Clean Power Plan, which will place historic limits on carbon pollution from power plants. Carbon pollution fuels climate change, triggers more asthma attacks and respiratory disease, worsens air quality, and contributes to more frequent, destructive, costly, and deadly extreme weather events. The Clean Power Plan will prevent up to 150,000 asthma attacks and 6,600 premature deaths annually by 2030.

    The EPA is seeking public comment on the proposed action and has held formal regional hearings in Atlanta, Ga., Denver, Co., Washington, D.C., and Pittsburgh, Pa. Supporters vastly outnumbered opponents at each of these hearings.

    “We need community leaders on the front lines of the fight against climate change,” said Lisa Pohlmann. “The President has presented a common sense plan and a major step forward in addressing these problems, and now is the time for our local leaders to support these important measures.”