LATEST NEWS

Energy in Maine
  • Disastrous new solar rules violate Maine's right to energy independence

    Aug. 18, 2017

    It’s shocking, but true. Thanks to the actions of a self-proclaimed anti-tax governor, Maine is about to become the first state where electric companies can charge fees for the energy you make and use at your own home or business. This will likely reduce your energy choices and increase energy costs for all Mainers.

    In Maine, we take pride in our independence and self-reliance. Many of us still grow our own vegetables or cut our own firewood. We don’t like big government or big corporations coming into our homes and watching us — especially to charge us new taxes or fees.

    But under new solar energy rules set to take effect in January, if you dare to make your own energy using solar panels, you’ll be charged fees for that energy. Central Maine Power (or Emera Maine, for some) will now monitor your home energy use and actually charge you for the electricity you make and consume onsite. Implementing these rules also will come with an enormous price tag that will be passed along directly to ratepayers like you and me.

    If that sounds wrong, it’s because it is.

    Imagine you’ve got a garden in your backyard, and when you decide to harvest your ripe tomatoes, the local grocery store sends you a bill. That’s the logic of the Maine Public Utilities Commission’s new solar energy rules. Hand-picked by Gov. Paul LePage, the members of this commission have a critical say in Maine’s energy future.

    Many legislators — both Democrats and Republicans — didn’t think the new solar energy rules seemed fair, so we worked diligently on a compromise. We came up with LD 1504, this session’s so-called “solar bill.”

    The bill would have banned new fees on the energy consumers generate at home. It would have delayed implementation of the rules and required the Public Utilities Commission to conduct a full cost-benefit analysis before coming back to the Legislature with a new proposal.

    It also would have lifted barriers to shared projects such as solar farms or community wind or hydro-energy projects, helping renters and others without an appropriate site to share in the benefits of self-generation.

    Despite LD 1504 being sponsored by a Republican, amended twice by Republicans, and initially passed with veto-proof majorities in the House and Senate, it failed on the very last day of this session. A small minority of Republicans — including seven who flipped their votes — in the House sided with LePage to uphold his veto of the bill. As a result, these disastrous rules are set to take effect in January.

    It didn’t have to be this way.

    LD 1504 would have protected hundreds of good-paying, local jobs in the rooftop solar industry and cleared the way for the creation of many more. It would have recognized our rights as Mainers to produce our own energy.

    But, perhaps most importantly, LD 1504 would have saved all ratepayers money.

    The more small, distributed generation we have, like rooftop solar panels, the less we need to pay for expensive poles and wires to bring us energy. Our own homegrown energy can help lower costs for everyone.

    In fact, the primary driver of today’s rising electricity costs in Maine is continuous building of transmission poles and wires. This “overbuilding” is driven by Central Maine Power profit interests. They are guaranteed at least a 10 percent profit on transmission projects, and as a regulated monopoly, the more they build, the more they are allowed to charge you and me.

    It’s not surprising then that Central Maine Power lobbied hard to kill LD 1504, even bringing their CEO to Augusta to personally twist Republicans’ arms on the day of the vote.

    To protect your right to produce clean energy and local jobs, we’ll try again when the Legislature returns in January. The only way we’ll succeed is if constituents and ratepayers tell legislators they oppose Maine’s new, first-in-the-world fee on energy produced and used at home. 

    Rep. Seth Berry, D-Bowdoinham, is a former House Majority Leader and currently House Chair of the Energy, Utilities and Technology Committee.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • Over $77 Thousand USDA Renewable Energy Grants for Seven Maine Businesses

    By Ramona du Houx

    Seven Maine businesses have been selected to receive Rural Energy for America Program (REAP) grants totaling $77,500 for the purchase and installation of renewable energy systems and energy efficiency improvements.

    The following Maine businesses have been selected to receive REAP grants: 

    • FEDCO Seeds, Inc., in Clinton, has been selected to receive $20,000 to purchase and install a 54.6 kWh ground-mounted solar PV system to benefit their storage facility for seeds, plants and gardening supplies. This system is projected to produce 70,793 kWh annually (replacing 96 percent of their energy demands), or enough electricity to power six homes.
    • Solar Center, LLC., in Arundel, has been selected to receive $19,391 to purchase and install a 26.1 kW solar PV system on three ground-mounted trackers to benefit a newly constructed greenhouse for organic farmers. This system is projected to produce 44,620 kWh annually (replacing more than 140 percent of their historical energy demands), or enough electricity to power four homes.
    • Wilbur B. Bradbury, dba Bradbury Maple, in Bridgewater, has been selected to receive $3,567 to purchase and install a new reverse osmosis system for this maple syrup farm which will concentrate the sap, resulting in decreased fuel oil use for boiling. The system is anticipated to reduce energy demands by 46 percent, saving 11,392 kWh annually, or enough energy to power one home. 
    • Trippcrest Farm, LLC., in Harrison, has been selected to receive $8,081 to purchase and install a 14.85 kW roof-mounted solar PV system to benefit their horse farm. This system is projected to produce 13,961 kWh annually (replacing 100 percent of their business energy demands), or enough electricity to power one home.
    • Harpswell Freezers, LLC., in Harpswell, has been selected to receive $2,534 to purchase and install a 26.5 kW roof-mounted solar PV system at one of their commercial rental real estate properties. This system is expected to produce 29,885 kWh annually (replacing 17 percent of their historic business energy demands), or enough electricity to power two homes.
    •  Power Gripps, USA, Inc., in Sorrento, has been selected to receive $13,228 to purchase and install an 18.4 kW roof-mounted solar PV system to benefit the owner’s business. This system is projected to produce 19,544 kWh annually (replacing 100 percent of their energy demands), or enough electricity to power one home.
    • Waldoboro Environmental Park, Inc., in Waldoboro, has been selected to receive $10,699 to purchase and install a 12.48 kW building-integrated solar PV on a proposed new structure in the business park. This system is predicted to produce 15,622 kWh annually, or enough electricity to power one home.

        REAP provides guaranteed loan financing and grant funding to agricultural producers and rural small businesses for renewable energy systems or to make energy efficiency improvements. Eligible applicants include tribal business entities, cooperatives and electric utilities. Renewable energy sources include wind, solar, renewable biomass (including anaerobic digesters), small hydro-electric, ocean, geothermal or hydrogen derived from these renewable resources. Energy efficiency projects could include upgrades to more efficient motors, adding insulation, HVAC units, and lighting upgrades, among others.

        For more information on this program please contact Cheryl Pelletier, Business Programs Specialist, at (207) 764-4157 ext. 4, or at cheryl.pelletier@me.usda.gov.

  • Latest RGGI auction brings in over $1.5 million - $85 million to date for Maine

     

    By Ramona du Houx

    Maine earned $1,555,662 in The Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative’s (RGGI) 35th auction of carbon dioxide allowances. RGGI is the nation’s first market-based regulatory program to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) pollution and is viewed as a model for other regions.

     Since RGGI’s inception Maine has brought in $85,166,608.15 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 the Baldacci administration.

    14,371,300 CO2 allowances were sold at the auction at a clearing price of $3.00. Bids for the CO2 allowances ranged from $2.15 to $13.75 per allowance.

    The March 8th auction was the first auction of 2017, and generated $43.1 million for reinvestment in strategic programs, including energy efficiency, renewable energy, direct bill assistance, and GHG abatement programs. Cumulative proceeds from all RGGI CO2 allowance auctions for all the 9 states participating exceed $2.68 billion dollars. 

    In Maine, the program first started when Governor John Baldacci pushed for it’s implementation and had lawmakers introduce a bill. The legislation won unanimous support in Maine’s Senate and House.

    “RGGI is still working and still helping Mainers reduce our energy bills and reduce emissions. It is a win-win and a model for the entire nation,” said State Representative Seth Berry, the House chair of the Legislature’s Energy, Utilities and Technology Committee.

    With ocean acidification on the rise Maine’s lobstermen are worried and have become proponents of RGGI. “Since RGGI’s inception in 2009, we have seen a 35 percent reduction in carbon emissions from power plants and substantial investments in energy efficiency across Maine,” said Richard Nelson a lobster fisherman and member of the Maine Ocean Acidification Commission and the Maine Regional Ocean Planning Advisory Group.

    “The reinvestment of these auction proceeds will help to build on the RGGI states’ track record of achieving emissions reductions together with economic growth,” said Katie Dykes, Chair of the Connecticut Public Utilities Regulatory Authority and Chair of the RGGI, Inc. Board of Directors.

    During Governor John Baldacci’s tenure his energy office developed a 50-year energy plan to help make the state energy independent. Many of the plans components of were implemented before Governor LePage took office, like becoming a member of RGGI.

    Baldacci's clean energy plan focused on how to get Maine off fossil fuels while bringing clean energy jobs to the state. His administration created grants for weatherization of homes and to help new alternative energy innovations like the floating offshore wind platforms and windmills developed at the University of Maine.

    “Year after year, RGGI delivers triple benefits—economic, social, and environmental,” said Jared Snyder, Deputy Commissioner, New York State Department of Environmental Conservation and Vice Chair of the RGGI, Inc. Board of Directors.  “More than a decade ago our states chose to step up in the absence of federal action, and independent reports have found significant payback as a result. RGGI is boosting state economies and lowering consumers’ energy bills while driving down carbon emissions and reducing the harmful health effects of fossil fuel pollution. The RGGI states continue to invest in the health of our communities while providing a clear market signal to power producers.”

     

     

    RGGI History — 

    The first pre-compliance RGGI auction took place in September 2008, and the program became effective on January 1, 2009. 

    In 2003, governors from Maine, Connecticut, Delaware, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Rhode Island, and Vermont began discussions to develop a regional cap-and-trade program addressing carbon dioxide emissions from power plants.

    On December 20, 2005, seven of those states announced an agreement to implement RGGI, as outlined in a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) signed by the Governor's of Maine, Connecticut, Delaware, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, and Vermont. The MOU, as amended, provides the outlines of RGGI. New Jersey is the only state to opt-out of the program under Governor Christie’s leadership, missing out on millions of revenues.

  • MPUC's anti-solar rules that would raise rates on solar power users - lawmakers need to take action

     Lawmakers could stop extreme anti-solar rules, save ratepayers money and help grow jobs

    By Ramona du Houx

    The amount of solar power added worldwide soared by over 50 percent in 2016, according to data compiled by Europe’s solar power trade body.

    New solar photovoltaic capacity installed reached more than 76 gigawatts just within 2016.

    Most of the increases took place in the US and China. Globally there is now 305GW of solar power capacity, up from around 50GW in 2010 and virtually nothing at the turn of the millennium.

    The dramatic shift in installment has a lot to do with technological advances in the industry coupled with the urgency the climate change threat poses to the world. Add that to the fact — it makes business sense to install solar power as it save consumers and businesses money — and you have a clear path forward for the solar power industry.

    But there is one hitch in Maine—the Maine Public Utilities Commission’s (MPUC’s) new net metering rules include some of the most extreme anti-solar elements in the nation. They will go into effect at the end of the year if the Legislature fails to put a stop to the onerous rules that would make rate payers with solar installments pay more.

     “Under the PUC’s extreme anti-solar rules, for the first time utilities would charge Maine homes and businesses for solar power they produce and consume themselves on site,” said Dylan Voorhees, Climate and Clean Energy Director, Natural Resources Council of Maine. “In the wake of the PUC’s decision, it is essential that Maine lawmakers pass an effective bill that overturns these rules and puts Maine on track to increase our production and use of solar power. But, if allowed to take effect, these new rules will threaten existing and potential new jobs and guarantee that we remain in last place in New England for solar jobs and energy production.”

    Rep. Seth Berry in 2008 at work in the Maine House of Representatives. Photo by Ramona du Houx

    In an expensive new requirement, new solar customers will be forced to install, and ratepayers will pay for, an extra meter for their solar panels — forcing them to pay utilities a fee for solar power they generate, power that never will enter the electricity grid.

    “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,” said Rep. Seth Berry, who is the House chair of the Legislature’s Energy, Utilities and Technology Committee. “The finalized rule by the MPUC takes us in the wrong direction by making major and disruptive changes — despite overwhelming public input regarding risks to our energy and jobs markets.”

    Studies show that solar power 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.

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

    The MPUC failed to conduct any costs and benefits analysis of this new net metering, so they cannot say with any authority whether these rules will help or harm ratepayers. However, previous studies by the MPUC clearly indicate that increased use of distributed solar in Maine leads to lower electric rates.

    "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. We urge the legislature to act swiftly to restore good solar policy for Maine’s future," said Environment Maine campaigns director Laura Dorle.

    The best and swiftest solution is for the Legislature to enact an effective law to move Maine forward this session, before these extreme rules take effect at the end of 2017.

    “The Legislature should be setting solar policy in Maine, not the MPUC. With others, NRCM is also likely to file a ‘motion for reconsideration’ with the PUC, giving them one last chance to set aside these extreme changes,” said Voorhees.

    The Office of the Public Advocate, which represents ratepayers, testified last year that it had “significant concerns with the rules,” noting they “include provisions that are unclear, unworkable, and potentially unlawful.”

    Public opposition to this policy included more than 4,000 comments received by the MPUC. Polling shows that a strong majority of Mainers from all counties and political affiliations oppose this rollback.

     

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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)

  • Maine has received $3.3 billion from USDA during Obama years

    By Ramona du Houx 

    Since the beginning of the Obama Administration in Fiscal Year 2009, Maine Rural Development has invested an historic $3.3 billion in Maine’s rural communities through its programs, assisting 18,181 individuals and families to obtain homeownership or make repairs to their homes, constructing 42 Multi-Family Apartment buildings, investing in 250 essential community facilities, including water and waste facilities, assisting 3,505 Maine businesses, and impacting 10,211 jobs. 

    Just last year the USDA invested a total of $402.3 million in Maine communities in Fiscal Year 2016. 

    “Rural Development is a remarkable agency within the USDA that can build rural Maine communities from the ground up, investing in the community infrastructure that lays the foundation for strategic economic development. Rural Development invests in the homeowners, businesses, agricultural producers, and communities that help to make Maine a great place to work and call home,” said USDA Rural Development State Director Virginia Manuel.

    The funding was in the form of loans and grants through the agency’s Housing, Community, and Business & Cooperative Programs, and went directly to recipients in rural.

    1. Through the agency’s Housing Programs, a total of $316.8 million was invested in both homeownership and affordable rental housing in Maine.
    2. Through the agency’s Single-Family Housing Programs 1,849 Maine families became homeowners and 130 families were assisted with home repair and rehabilitation, including weatherization of their homes.
    3. Through the agency’s Multi-Family Housing Programs 8,003 families were assisted with quality rental housing throughout Maine’s rural communities.

    Maine communities benefited from a total investment of $55.09 million invested through the Community Programs which was provided to assist essential community facilities, including healthcare facilities, schools, and water and wastewater systems. A total of 36 community facilities were funded, and a total of 16,698 people were provided with improved water and wastewater infrastructure. 

    The Business & Cooperative Programs strengthened Maine’s economy through investments totaling $8.7 million, assisting 411 Maine businesses and creating and retaining a total of 926 jobs in the state. Maine’s agricultural producers and rural small businesses benefited from grants for value-added production and the installation of renewable and energy efficient systems, helping preserve the environment and reduce operating costs.

    USDA Rural Development has Area Offices located in Presque Isle, Bangor, Lewiston, and Scarborough, as well as a State Office, located in Bangor. There are 52 employees working to deliver the agency’s Housing, Business, and Community Programs, which are designed to improve the economic stability of rural communities, businesses, residents, and farmers, and improve the quality of life in rural Maine.

    Further information on rural programs is available at a local USDA Rural Development office 

  • 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.

     

  • 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.
  • 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.

  • Maine's Andross Mill in Brunswick to have solar panels installed

    By Ramona du Houx

    The Village Review Board of Brunswick has approved a proposed 160-panel solar array that will grace the roof top of Fort Andross Mill.

     ReVision Energy will start to install the 40-kilowatt solar array, which has a price tag of $127,000, by the end of June.

    Dan Jacques said the catalyst of the solar project came from the lease agreement between Waterfront Maine and one of its major tenants-the Nature Conservancy of Maine.

    "Waterfront agreed to finance the project entirely on their own, and then sell us the electricity … through the lease agreement," said Nature Conservancy Associate State Director Tom Rumpf. "It gives us the ability to have a clean energy source, and we're trying to demonstrate a new potential model for leasees to discuss with their landlord."

    In addition to the solar panels project, Waterfront Maine will also be installing a charging station for electrical vehicles in the mill's parking lot.

    Bowdoin College, in Brunswick, now has the largest solar array in the state. Freeport, just up the road has a community solar project helping residents save.

    Dispite Gov. LePage's veto that killed the potential of adding 600 more jobs in the solar industry in the state, federal tax credits continue to help the industry grow in Maine.

  • 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.

  • Maine solar power bill sails through legislature, now on way to Gov. LePage for signature

    By Ramona du Houx

    When An Act to Modernize Maine’s Solar Power Policy becomes law it will sustain 300 jobs that already exist in Maine’s solar industry and create 650 to 800 new jobs. This solar energy bill will also increase the state’s utilization of clean, renewable solar energy, and lower electric rates.

    “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.”

    The groundbreaking law has been the result of stakeholders working together over many months, including Maine’s Public Advocate-whose job mandates he looks out for ratepayer interests, and representatives from Maine’s solar industry, utility companies, municipalities, Maine conservation groups, and legislators.

    Maine is currently last in the region in solar development and job creation because of antiquated policies. “This bill will make Maine a leader in solar energy policy and create hundreds of jobs for Maine people, who will build our clean energy future one panel at a time,” said Sen. Dawn Hill, lead Senate Democrat on the Legislature’s Energy Committee.

    LD 1649 modernizes parts of Maine’s utility policy that created unfair 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.

    The law ensures municipalities, neighborhoods and other groups of individuals the right to band together for solar production — allowing regular people to “go green” together, even if they can’t do it alone. 

    “Solar is an opportunity to marry emerging technology with economic development at the local level,” said Rep. Mark Dion, D-Portland, House chair of the committee. “Solar is going to be an energy technology that will both serve us now and into the 22nd century.” 

    Community solar projects are on the rise across the USA and in Maine. The most recent community project is in Freeport, where ReVison Maine worked with residents and the town to make it happen.

    The bill was amended before it passed the Senate unanimously. 

    As amended by Sen. David Woodsome, R-North Waterboro, the bill adds 196 megawatts of solar power to the state’s energy portfolio over four years. The amendment also introduced additional protections for ratepayers.

    The bill is estimated to create between $58 million and $110 million in ratepayer savings.

    The bill is on it's way to Governor LePage's desk to be approved or vetoed.

  • Maine proposed bill to protect biomass jobs, protect ratepayers wins strong panel support

    Measure provides safety net for vulnerable industries and accountability 

     The Energy, Utilities and Technology Committee on April 7, 2016 advanced a proposal to prevent the loss of over 1,000 jobs in Maine’s biomass industry while also protecting ratepayers from an increase in their electric bill.

    “This is first and foremost a jobs bill. Maine cannot afford to keep losing good-paying jobs,” said House Majority Leader Jeff McCabe, D-Skowhegan. “We’re stepping up with a solution that offers a temporary, accountable safety net for our vulnerable biomass industries and the loggers who depend on them without making Mainers foot the bill. We no longer have to make the choice between sending a thousand Mainers home without a paycheck or increasing electric bills for Mainers just trying to get by.”

    LD 1676, An Act To Establish a Process for Procurement of Renewable Resources, as amended by Rep. Mark Dion, D-Portland, is advancing to the full Legislature with a bipartisan vote of 9-3.

    The proposal would fund two-year, 80 megawatt contracts to biomass facilities at an annual cost of no greater than $6.7 million to the Rainy Day Fund. While many on the committee agreed that action was necessary, the funding source for the contracts remained a point of contention. A minority report supported by Republicans seeks to fund the contracts by increasing monthly electric bills for ratepayers, including small businesses and residential customers.

    “We have had five mills close in the last three years and these biomass plants are on the verge of shutting their doors. This is a rainy day in the state of Maine and a rainy day for the forest products industry,” said Dion, House chair of the committee. “It’s time for the Legislature to show leadership by providing relief to our communities, protecting consumers and businesses and saving jobs. This proposal does just that.”

    The new proposal defines biomass generators who produce Maine fibers as the only beneficiaries and further specifies core provisions to establish accountability, including performance measures and an annual review of economic effectiveness. 

    It also includes commonsense protections to ensure that any facility bidding for contracts are operational for at least six months before the contract is awarded.  This was a provision proposed during a work session by Rep. Nathan Wadsworth, R-Hiram.

    According to Professional Logging Contractors of Maine, the biomass industry directly supports nearly 150 jobs and an estimated additional 900 jobs indirectly. It accounts for a quarter of the power supply in Maine.

    The bill faces actions in the House and Senate.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • $200 Million loan funds available from USDA for renewable energy and energy efficiency projects

    Exeter Agri-Energy utilized a USDA Rural Development REAP Guaranteed Loan along with $500,000 in REAP Grant funds to install an anaerobic digester at Stonyvale Farm, Maine.

    By Ramona du Houx

     USDA Rural Development has approximately $200 million available through the REAP guaranteed loan program for fiscal year 2016 to finance renewable energy and energy efficiency projects in Maine’s rural communities.  The agency is now accepting applications from rural small businesses and agricultural producers to compete for $200 million in guaranteed loan funds.

      "This funding opportunity represents substantial potential for rural Maine businesses and agricultural producers to make long-term investments in renewable energy systems and energy-efficiency improvements through a local lender using USDA Rural Development’s REAP guaranteed loan program. This collaboration can help our businesses significantly reduce operating costs, decrease Maine’s independence on foreign oil, and ultimately demonstrate their positive environmental values to their customers and community," said USDA Rural Development State Director Virginia Manuel.

    Loan purposes include financing renewable energy systems such as biomass fueled anaerobic digesters and biodiesel production, solar, wind, geothermal, etc., and making energy efficiency improvements such as efficient lighting conversions, motor upgrades, building envelope improvements, HVAC upgrades and more.

    Exeter Agri-Energy utilized a USDA Rural Development REAP Guaranteed Loan along with $500,000 in REAP Grant funds to install an anaerobic digester at Stonyvale Farm, a third generation Maine dairy farm. The energy offset by the system through savings on electricity, heat, and cattle bedding was estimated to be $250,000 annually.

    Stonyvale Farm collects manure from 1,000 milking cows, and processors deliver organic waste to augment and optimize a "special" recipe that serves as the fuel. The careful introduction of organic waste into the digesters, in just the right amount and at just the right time, is part of the unique “edge” that EAE has developed at Stonyvale Farm.

     The system heats the manure/organic mixture to just over 100 degrees Fahrenheit, and agitates it intermittently over a 15-25 day retention period. At this point the concoction produces an energy-packed supply of biogas, a potent combination of methane and carbon dioxide. A 1,500 horsepower engine burns the biogas, powering a generator that produces enough heat every day to replace 700 gallons of heating oil on average, and 22,000 kilowatt hours of electricity. On an annual basis, that’s enough energy to heat 300 New England homes and enough to power as many as 800 households.

     Funds are being made available through Rural Development’s Rural Energy for America Program (REAP). Agricultural producers and rural small businesses benefit from available credit, favorable rates and terms, and energy and cost savings.

    Guaranteed loans are available for up to 75 percent of the total eligible project cost, and loan amounts can range from $5,000 to $25 million. The REAP loan guarantee requires that 25 percent of project costs come from other funding sources such as business equity or other borrowed funds, which could include a USDA Rural Development Business & Industry Guaranteed Loan. REAP loan guarantees range from 85 percent for loans of $600,000 and less to 60 percent for loans of more than $10 million. 

    For more information on how to apply, interested rural Maine businesses, agricultural producers, and lenders may contact Brian Wilson at 990-9168 or brian.wilson@me.usda.gov or visit http://www.rd.usda.gov/programs-services/rural-energy-america-program-renewable-energy-systems-energy-efficiency/me.

     

  • Paris climate change agreement: "A turning point for the world"

    The full statement from President Barack Obama on the Paris climate change deal agreed to by close to 200 nations. 

    5:30 P.M. EST, December 12, 2015

    THE PRESIDENT:  In my first inaugural address, I committed this country to the tireless task of combating climate change and protecting this planet for future generations. 

    Two weeks ago, in Paris, I said before the world that we needed a strong global agreement to accomplish this goal -- an enduring agreement that reduces global carbon pollution and sets the world on a course to a low-carbon future. 

    A few hours ago, we succeeded.  We came together around the strong agreement the world needed.  We met the moment.

    I want to commend President Hollande and Secretary General Ban for their leadership and for hosting such a successful summit, and French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius for presiding with patience and resolve.  And I want to give a special thanks to Secretary John Kerry, my Senior Advisor Brian Deese, our chief negotiator Todd Stern, and everyone on their teams for their outstanding work and for making America proud.

    I also want to thank the people of nearly 200 nations -- large and small, developed and developing -- for working together to confront a threat to the people of all nations.  Together, we’ve shown what’s possible when the world stands as one.

    Today, the American people can be proud -- because this historic agreement is a tribute to American leadership.  Over the past seven years, we’ve transformed the United States into the global leader in fighting climate change.  In 2009, we helped salvage a chaotic Copenhagen Summit and established the principle that all countries had a role to play in combating climate change.  We then led by example, with historic investments in growing industries like wind and solar, creating a new and steady stream of middle-class jobs.  We’ve set the first-ever nationwide standards to limit the amount of carbon pollution power plants can dump into the air our children breathe.  From Alaska to the Gulf Coast to the Great Plains, we’ve partnered with local leaders who are working to help their communities protect themselves from some of the most immediate impacts of a changing climate.   

    Now, skeptics said these actions would kill jobs.  Instead, we’ve seen the longest streak of private-sector job creation in our history.  We’ve driven our economic output to all-time highs while driving our carbon pollution down to its lowest level in nearly two decades.  And then, with our historic joint announcement with China last year, we showed it was possible to bridge the old divides between developed and developing nations that had stymied global progress for so long.  That accomplishment encouraged dozens and dozens of other nations to set their own ambitious climate targets.  And that was the foundation for success in Paris.  Because no nation, not even one as powerful as ours, can solve this challenge alone.  And no country, no matter how small, can sit on the sidelines.  All of us had to solve it together. 

    Now, no agreement is perfect, including this one.  Negotiations that involve nearly 200 nations are always challenging.  Even if all the initial targets set in Paris are met, we’ll only be part of the way there when it comes to reducing carbon from the atmosphere.  So we cannot be complacent because of today’s agreement.  The problem is not solved because of this accord.  But make no mistake, the Paris agreement establishes the enduring framework the world needs to solve the climate crisis.  It creates the mechanism, the architecture, for us to continually tackle this problem in an effective way. 

    This agreement is ambitious, with every nation setting and committing to their own specific targets, even as we take into account differences among nations.  We’ll have a strong system of transparency, including periodic reviews and independent assessments, to help hold every country accountable for meeting its commitments.  As technology advances, this agreement allows progress to pave the way for even more ambitious targets over time.  And we have secured a broader commitment to support the most vulnerable countries as they pursue cleaner economic growth.

     In short, this agreement will mean less of the carbon pollution that threatens our planet, and more of the jobs and economic growth driven by low-carbon investment.  Full implementation of this agreement will help delay or avoid some of the worst consequences of climate change, and will pave the way for even more progress, in successive stages, over the coming years.

    Moreover, this agreement sends a powerful signal that the world is firmly committed to a low-carbon future.  And that has the potential to unleash investment and innovation in clean energy at a scale we have never seen before.  The targets we’ve set are bold.  And by empowering businesses, scientists, engineers, workers, and the private sector -- investors -- to work together, this agreement represents the best chance we’ve had to save the one planet that we’ve got.  

    So I believe this moment can be a turning point for the world. 

    We’ve shown that the world has both the will and the ability to take on this challenge.  It won’t be easy.  Progress won’t always come quick.  We cannot be complacent.  While our generation will see some of the benefits of building a clean energy economy -- jobs created and money saved -- we may not live to see the full realization of our achievement.  But that’s okay.  What matters is that today we can be more confident that this planet is going to be in better shape for the next generation.  And that’s what I care about. 

    I imagine taking my grandkids, if I’m lucky enough to have some, to the park someday, and holding their hands, and hearing their laughter, and watching a quiet sunset, all the while knowing that our work today prevented an alternate future that could have been grim; that our work, here and now, gave future generations cleaner air, and cleaner water, and a more sustainable planet.  And what could be more important than that? 

    Today, thanks to strong, principled, American leadership, that’s the world that we’ll leave to our children -- a world that is safer and more secure, more prosperous, and more free.  And that is our most important mission in our short time here on this Earth. 

     

  • The World reaches historic deal to curb climate change

    Nations agree to curb climate change with historic Paris draft agreement

    By Ramona du Houx

    There was relief and celebration in Paris tonight, as officials from rich, moderate and poor countires swept aside monumental differences and agreed to an unprecedented global deal to tackle climate change.

    Negotiations went through the night on Friday to come up with an agreement in Paris, France, to curb climate change amoungst over 191 nations. On December 12, 2015 the 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.

    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.

  • 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.”

  • Rural Maine can grow economically with solar power

    Editorial by Vaughan Woodruff, first appeared in the BDN

    Earlier this summer I was invited to speak at Bowdoin College for an event hosted by Envision Maine titled “Maine’s Economy and Climate Change.” In my opening remarks I noted that a slight adjustment to the event’s title would describe a topic that is central to almost every rural community in Maine: the changing economic climate of our once vibrant communities. If we were to predict the death of a town, what might it look like? Closed factories? A declining downtown? An aging population? Abandoned homes? A soft real estate market? Too many of our rural communities are experiencing all these symptoms.

    To reverse this trend requires the immediacy that is often expressed by those concerned with the consequences of global climate change: We need to take immediate action to stave off a much more dire future. As we watch the slow death of our rural communities around us, it is easy to perceive the climate change movement as a luxury of the rich. The perils of rising sea levels, extreme weather phenomena and the extinction or mass migration of animal and plant species tend to be more abstract and seem less immediate than the economic challenges we see everyday. It’s in our nature to focus on the more immediate threat.

    Fortunately, it is becoming increasingly evident that measures to address global climate change will drive local economic development in our rural communities. In Maine we have seen efforts to support more sustainable food networks and energy sources — two sectors with significant impacts on climate change. These serve important roles for our rural communities by increasing our local food and energy security, reducing energy costs and growing local small businesses.

    Our company, Insource Renewables, is working to redirect energy expenditures that are often sent out of state to large utility and fossil fuel companies by investing in local heat pump and solar projects. This work provides well-paying jobs that are buffered from the outsourcing trends that have emptied our mills.

    We are not alone. Colleagues in Skowhegan, Dover-Foxcroft and Liberty are also securing our local food and energy sectors while providing economic opportunities in communities where they are sorely needed. While showing some promise, these efforts require strong policy to expand their impact and reach the communities that need them the most. We have been subjected to local consequences of globalization for too long, and a comprehensive focus on building local energy economies is an easy lift as we work to reverse some of the economic trends we see in communities such as Pittsfield, Bucksport, Millinocket, Calais or Dexter.

    For example, expanding Maine’s solar industry can bridge the gap of energy inequality we see between our rural towns and those with easy access to Interstate 95 or natural gas infrastructure. In addition, the solar industry demands the type of technical professionals we have become too good at exporting because of a lack of opportunities for young graduates. Nationally, we have seen the job benefits of increased solar capacity. Last year, solar jobs in the U.S. grew at 20 times the rate of the U.S. workforce as a whole.

    These jobs are well-paying, technical jobs that cannot be outsourced and do not cannibalize other jobs in our rural communities. Instead, they represent an attractive career pathway for our graduates or for millworkers and other professionals who have found themselves unemployed or working low-wage jobs because of limited opportunities close to home. The recently released Clean Power Plan by the EPA focuses on addressing the impacts of our current energy infrastructure on climate.

    One key portion of the plan will more equitably compensate solar energy for its contributions to our current energy infrastructure and to mitigate the impacts of our energy supply on the climate. The results of this policy will open new doors for solar in Maine and allow us to move forward in an area where we have lagged behind the rest of our region.

    Critics of solar expansion in Maine often characterize the technology as a luxury of the rich, ignoring this: Solar becomes accessible to more households and businesses in states where mature solar industries are able to offer leasing or equitably reimburse solar owners for the valuable energy they provide to the grid. There is no silver bullet that will revive our communities but instead a combination of forward-thinking measures that address the unique challenges facing our communities.

    Without intending to do so, the EPA’s Clean Power Plan supports such efforts. It would be great to see Mainers embrace these types of policies that will serve to address our physical climate and our economic one.

  • RGGI earns Maine over $5,5 from the most recent auction - $70 million total from all the auctions

     

     Cumulative proceeds from all RGGI CO2 allowance auctions exceed $2.2 billion dollars for reinvestment in strategic programs, including energy efficiency, renewable energy, direct bill assistance, and GHG abatement programs.

    By Ramona du Houx

    The Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI), the nation’s first market-based regulatory program to reduce greenhouse gas pollution, announced the results of RGGI’s 29th August, 2015 auction of carbon dioxide (CO2) allowances. Maine earned $5,597,684.96.

    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.

    "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.

    Maine joined RGGI in 2007, when the Legislature voted nearly unanimously to participate. Hinck was a major proponent of the program and helped the Baldacci administration sail through the lawmaking process. The program took effect in 2009 and is on schedule to reduce global warming pollution from power plants by half of 2005 levels by 2020. Carbon emissions in the nine participating RGGI states have dropped by about a third since 2009.

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

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

    The Efficiency Maine Trust determines how the revenue generated from the sale of credits can be best used for energy efficiency programs and carbon savings.  By law, Maine invests RGGI revenue into energy efficiency programs and investments. From 2009 - 20011 Maine invested $27 million from its sale of carbon credits in energy efficiency projects, generating $80 million in reduced electric bills for residents and businesses. This activity added a total of $92 million to Maine’s economy, including more than 900 jobs, according to the NRDCM.

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

     “Out of the $2.5 million, nearly $1 million will go to the Home Energy Savings Program, enough to help another 1,000 homeowners invest in insulation, heat pumps and other energy-saving improvements. RGGI is also putting Maine in great competitive position to benefit from the President’s Clean Energy Plan to cut carbon from power plants, so it’s win-win-win,” added Voorhees.

    President Obama’s Clean Energy Plan would limit carbon pollution from all power plants, set improved energy efficiency standards for appliances and buildings, boost clean renewable energy, and help Americans, businesses, and communities deal with the effects of climate change.

    RGGI provides numerous economic benefits by stimulating economic investment and supporting energy efficiency and renewable energy technologies— and their related businesses.

    Alternative energy jobs on the rise with good pay—

    RGGI has reduced pollution while measurably strengthening Maine’s economy by reducing energy costs and creating jobs. The cap-n-trade program also creates incentives for energy efficiency and clean, renewable power.

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

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

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

    RGGI has generated $2.2 billion in benefits for the nine U.S. states participating. It also created more than 14,000 new jobs in the Northeast and saved consumers $460 million in lower electric bills over the past three years, according to a report released July 13, 2015 by Analysis Group, a Boston-based consulting company.

    “This (29th) auction comes directly on the heels of several independent reports which have reinforced RGGI’s benefits to consumers, the economy, and our environment,” said Katie Dykes, Deputy Commissioner for Energy of the Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection, and Chair of the RGGI, Inc. Board of Directors. “States across the country are preparing for the implementation of EPA’s Clean Power Plan. With a seven year track record the RGGI states have demonstrated that reducing pollution is fully compatible with economic growth and providing reliable power.”

    The six-year-old carbon trading market, the first in the U.S., serves as a model for other states, which all must now regulate emissions to meet new rules from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Pennsylvania and Virginia officials have discussed joining RGGI.

    “There are a lot of states that are looking carefully at doing the same thing,” said Paul Hibbard, an Analysis Group vice-president and co-author of the study. “It will be hard for states to not realize that from the standpoint of economic efficiency, that’s the way to go.”

     The Northeast program was overhauled last year. After reducing the amount of allowances available by 45 percent, prices increased, and so did the incentive to cut emissions.

    Recently, Stanford researchers have a developed 50-state roadmap to a clean, renewable energy future, proving that Maine can become energy independent. The study, published in the Energy and Environmental Sciences, showcases how each state can replace fossil fuels by tapping into renewable resources available in each state, such as wind, solar, geothermal, hydroelectric, and in some states— like Maine— tidal and off-shore wind.

  • Skowhegan State Fair a 100 percent wind powered and will host a family Build-a-Blade Competition

    Kirby Wind Farm, photo by Ramona du Houx

     For the second year, the Skowhegan State Fair is a 100 percent wind powered event. The power was purchased from renewable energy facilities to offset the electricity used to power the fair, representing approximately 89,000 kilowatt hours. 

    In addition to providing Maine Renewable Energy Credits, the Skowhegan State Fair Skowhegan, Maine Wind for ME, and the Maine Ocean and Wind Industry Initiative, will host a family Builda-Blade Challenge at the Skowhegan State Fair on Friday afternoon, August 21, 1-4pm.

    The Build-a-Blade Challenge will be to design and build a mini wind turbine to pull a toy car along a track.

    “We’re proud of our partnership with the Skowhegan State Fair and its commitment to clean, renewable energy,” said David Farmer, a spokesperson for Wind for ME. “The Build-a-Blade Challenge is a family-focused activity that helps people learn about the science of wind and how it can be harnessed to produce emission free power. Plus, it’s a lot of fun.”

    Over 1,000MW of new onshore wind power development will be occurring in Maine over the next three years, representing a $2.1 billion investment in wind energy in our state from 2015-2018. The Build-a-Blade events help to raise awareness and educate people on this growing piece of Maine’s rural economy while providing another source of fun for fair goers and their children.

  • 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.

  • The Clean Power Plan in Maine

    Graphic and article by Ramona du Houx

    President Obama’s Clean Energy Plan would limit carbon pollution from all power plants, set improved energy efficiency standards for appliances and buildings, boost clean renewable energy, and help Americans, businesses, and communities deal with the effects of climate change.

    "'We’re the first generation to feel the impact of climate change; we're the last generation that can do something about it.' We only get one home.  We only get one planet.  There’s no plan B," said President Barack Obama announcing the Clean Power Plan. 

    The EPA’s Clean Power Plan sets the first ever federal limits on the carbon pollution that comes from existing power plants and causes climate change. The plan, which encourages investments in clean energy and energy efficiency, is designed to achieve a 32 percent reduction in power-plant carbon pollution by 2030. The plan explicitly builds on an existing policy in Maine and the Northeast, known as the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, or RGGI, which already sets a limit on carbon pollution from power plants.

    “Maine has suffered in many ways from coal-burning power plants to our south and west,” said Charles Colgan, Professor Emeritus of Public Policy and Planning at USM, currently, Director of Research for the Center for the Blue Economy, and former state economist of Maine. “From an economics perspective, those regions have been burning cheap dirty coal, while we foot the pollution bill and struggle to compete. The Clean Power Plan helps level the playing field, because Maine has already taken major actions to clean up our power supply.   Maine people should not have to pay the price for cheap coal power produced elsewhere. It is good news for anyone who cares about Maine’s competitiveness.”   

    The Clean Power Plan provides considerable flexibility to states to develop strategies to meet the pollution reduction targets, including through regional cooperation. A recent analysis from the Union of Concerned Scientists identified Maine as one of 14 states on track to surpass Clean Power Plan pollution targets for 2020.  Maine has considerable clean energy resources, such as wind, solar, hydro and ocean renewables, which create local jobs and energy security. All of this puts Maine at a competitive advantageas the Clean Power Plan is implemented across the nation.

    “As a farmer who has been producing maple syrup and growing hay for decades, I have already observed negative changes in the climate,” says Russell Black, a farmer and Maine state representative (R-Wilton). “If we want to hand the Maine we grew up with to our kids, whether we’re farmers or not, we need to take smart actions to prevent climate change from getting far worse. I’m proud of the bipartisan solutions Maine has adopted that help our economy while reducing pollution.”

     The Cap-n-trade carbon reduction 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.

    The Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI), is the nation’s first market-based regulatory program to reduce greenhouse gas pollution, and has placed Maine in a great position in the Clean Power Plan.

    “The Clean Power Plan is great news for Maine on so many different levels,” said Dylan Voorhees, Clean Energy Director for the Natural Resources Council of Maine. “It will ensure that other states join us and do their part to address climate change before it takes too great a toll on our economy, our health and our way of life. Maine has taken bold, effective action; these national limits on carbon pollution are way overdue.”

     RGGI allowance auctions have taken place quarterly since September 2008, generating  $64,804,926.89 million in total for Maine. By law, Maine invests RGGI revenue into energy efficiency programs and investments. From 2009 - 20011 Maine invested $27 million from its sale of carbon credits in energy efficiency projects, generating $80 million in reduced electric bills for residents and businesses. This activity added a total of $92 million to Maine’s economy, including more than 900 jobs, according to the NRDCM.

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

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

    The Full Remarks by President Barack Obama about Clean Power Plan:

     THE PRESIDENT:  Gina, I want to thank you not just for the introduction, but for the incredible work that you and your team have been doing -- not just on this issue, but on generally making sure that we've got clean air, clean water, a great future for our kids. 

         I want to thank all the members of Congress who are here, as well, who have been fighting this issue, and sometimes at great odds with others, but are willing to take on what is going to be one of the key challenges of our lifetimes and future generations.  I want to thank our Surgeon General, who’s just been doing outstanding work and is helping to make the connection between this critical issue and the health of our families.

         Over the past six and a half years, we've taken on some of the toughest challenges of our time -- from rebuilding our economy after a devastating recession, to ending our wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and bringing almost all of our troops home, to strengthening our security through tough and principled diplomacy.  But I am convinced that no challenge poses a greater threat to our future and future generations than a changing climate.  And that's what brings us here today.

         Now, not everyone here is a scientist -- (laughter) -- but some of you are among the best scientists in the world.  And what you and your colleagues have been showing us for years now is that human activities are changing the climate in dangerous ways. Levels of carbon dioxide, which heats up our atmosphere, are higher than they’ve been in 800,000 years; 2014 was the planet’s warmest year on record.  And we've been setting a lot of records in terms of warmest years over the last decade.  One year doesn’t make a trend, but 14 of the 15 warmest years on record have fallen within the first 15 years of this century.

         Climate change is no longer just about the future that we're predicting for our children or our grandchildren; it's about the reality that we're living with every day, right now. 

         The Pentagon says that climate change poses immediate risks to our national security.  While we can't say any single weather event is entirely caused by climate change, we've seen stronger storms, deeper droughts, longer wildfire seasons.  Charleston and Miami now flood at high tide.  Shrinking ice caps forced National Geographic to make the biggest change in its atlas since the Soviet Union broke apart. 

         Over the past three decades, nationwide asthma rates have more than doubled, and climate change puts those Americans at greater risk of landing in the hospital.  As one of America’s governors has said, “We're the first generation to feel the impact of climate change and the last generation that can do something about it.”

         And that's why I committed the United States to leading the world on this challenge, because I believe there is such a thing as being too late. 

    Most of the issues that I deal with -- and I deal with some tough issues that cross my desk -- by definition, I don't deal with issues if they’re easy to solve because somebody else has already solved them.  And some of them are grim.  Some of them are heartbreaking.  Some of them are hard.  Some of them are frustrating.  But most of the time, the issues we deal with are ones that are temporally bound and we can anticipate things getting better if we just kind of plug away at it, even incrementally.  But this is one of those rare issues -- because of its magnitude, because of its scope -- that if we don't get it right we may not be able to reverse, and we may not be able to adapt sufficiently.  There is such a thing as being too late when it comes to climate change.  (Applause.)

    Now, that shouldn’t make us hopeless; it's not as if there’s nothing we can do about it.  We can take action.  Over the past several years, America has been working to use less dirty energy, more clean energy, waste less energy throughout our economy.  We've set new fuel economy standards that mean our cars will go twice as far on a gallon of gas by the middle of the next decade. Combined with lower gas prices, these standards are on pace to save drivers an average of $700 at the pump this year.  We doubled down on our investment in renewable energy.  We're generating three times as much wind power, 20 times as much solar power as we did in 2008.

    These steps are making a difference.  Over the past decade, even as our economy has continued to grow, the United States has cut our total carbon pollution more than any other nation on Earth.  (Applause.)  That's the good news.  But I am here to say that if we want to protect our economy and our security and our children’s health, we're going to have to do more.  The science tells us we have to do more.

    This has been our focus these past six years.  And it's particularly going to be our focus this month.  In Nevada, later in August, I'll talk about the extraordinary progress we've made in generating clean energy -- and the jobs that come with it -- and how we can boost that even further.  I'll also be the first American President to visit the Alaskan Arctic, where our fellow Americans have already seen their communities devastated by melting ice and rising oceans, the impact on marine life.  We're going to talk about what the world needs to do together to prevent the worst impacts of climate change before it's too late.

    And today, we're here to announce America’s Clean Power Plan -- a plan two years in the making, and the single most important step America has ever taken in the fight against global climate change.  (Applause.) 

    Right now, our power plants are the source of about a third of America’s carbon pollution.  That's more pollution than our cars, our airplanes and our homes generate combined.  That pollution contributes to climate change, which degrades the air our kids breathe.  But there have never been federal limits on the amount of carbon that power plants can dump into the air.  Think about that.  We limit the amount of toxic chemicals like mercury and sulfur and arsenic in our air or our water -- and we're better off for it.  But existing power plants can still dump unlimited amounts of harmful carbon pollution into the air.

    For the sake of our kids and the health and safety of all Americans, that has to change.  For the sake of the planet, that has to change. 

    So, two years ago, I directed Gina and the Environmental Protection Agency to take on this challenge.  And today, after working with states and cities and power companies, the EPA is setting the first-ever nationwide standards to end the limitless dumping of carbon pollution from power plants.  (Applause.) 

    Here’s how it works.  Over the next few years, each state will have the change to put together its own plan for reducing emissions -- because every state has a different energy mix.  Some generate more of their power from renewables; some from natural gas, or nuclear, or coal.  And this plan reflects the fact that not everybody is starting in the same place.  So we're giving states the time and the flexibility they need to cut pollution in a way that works for them. 

    And we'll reward the states that take action sooner instead of later -- because time is not on our side here.  As states work to meet their targets, they can build on the progress that our communities and businesses are already making.

    A lot of power companies have already begun modernizing their plants, reducing their emissions -- and by the way, creating new jobs in the process.  Nearly a dozen states have already set up their own market-based programs to reduce carbon pollution.  About half of our states have set energy efficiency targets.  More than 35 have set renewable energy targets.  Over 1,000 mayors have signed an agreement to cut carbon pollution in their cities.  And last week, 13 of our biggest companies, including UPS and Walmart and GM, made bold, new commitments to cut their emissions and deploy more clean energy. 

    So the idea of setting standards and cutting carbon pollution is not new.  It's not radical.  What is new is that, starting today, Washington is starting to catch up with the vison of the rest of the country.  And by setting these standards, we can actually speed up our transition to a cleaner, safer future.

    With this Clean Power Plan, by 2030, carbon pollution from our power plants will be 32 percent lower than it was a decade ago.  And the nerdier way to say that is that we’ll be keeping 870 million tons of carbon dioxide pollution out of our atmosphere.  (Applause.)  The simpler, layman’s way of saying that is it’s like cutting every ounce of emission due to electricity from 108 million American homes.  Or it's the equivalent of taking 166 million cars off the road. 

    By 2030, we will reduce premature deaths from power plant emissions by nearly 90 percent -- and thanks to this plan, there will be 90,000 fewer asthma attacks among our children each year. (Applause.)  And by combining this with greater investment in our booming clean energy sector, and smarter investments in energy efficiency, and by working with the world to achieve a climate agreement by the end of this year, we can do more to slow, and maybe even eventually stop, the carbon pollution that’s doing so much harm to our climate.

    So this is the right thing to do.  I want to thank, again, Gina and her team for doing it the right way.  Over the longest engagement process in EPA history, they fielded more than 4 million public comments; they worked with states, they worked with power companies, and environmental groups, and faith groups, and people across our country to make sure that what we were doing was realistic and achievable, but still ambitious. 

    And some of those people are with us here today.  So, Tanya Brown -- Tanya, wave, go ahead -- there’s Tanya.  (Applause.)  Tanya Brown has joined up with moms across America to spread the word about the dangers climate change pose to the health of our children -- including Tanya’s daughter, Sanaa.  There’s Sanaa, right there.   

    Dr. Sumita Khatri has spent her career researching the health impacts of pollution at the Cleveland Clinic, and helping families whose lives are impacted every single day.  Doctor, thank you.  (Applause.) 

    Sister Joan Marie Steadman has helped rally Catholic women across America to take on climate.  Sister, thank you so much for your leadership.  (Applause.)  And she’s got a pretty important guy on her side -- as Pope Francis made clear in his encyclical this summer, taking a stand against climate change is a moral obligation.  And Sister Steadman is living up to that obligation every single day.  

    Now, let’s be clear.  There will be critics of what we’re trying to do.  There will be cynics that say it cannot be done.  Long before the details of this Clean Power Plan were even decided, the special interests and their allies in Congress were already mobilizing to oppose it with everything they’ve got. They will claim that this plan will cost you money -- even though this plan, the analysis shows, will ultimately save the average American nearly $85 a year on their energy bills.

    They’ll claim we need to slash our investments in clean energy, it's a waste of money -- even though they’re happy to spend billions of dollars a year in subsidizing oil companies.  They’ll claim this plan will kill jobs -- even though our transition to a cleaner energy economy has the solar industry, to just name one example, creating jobs 10 times faster than the rest of the economy. 

    They’ll claim this plan is a “war on coal,” to scare up votes -- even as they ignore my plan to actually invest in revitalizing coal country, and supporting health care and retirement for coal miners and their families, and retraining those workers for better-paying jobs and healthier jobs.  Communities across America have been losing coal jobs for decades.  I want to work with Congress to help them, not to use them as a political football.  Partisan press releases aren’t going to help those families. 

    Even more cynical, we've got critics of this plan who are actually claiming that this will harm minority and low-income communities -- even though climate change hurts those Americans the most, who are the most vulnerable.  Today, an African-American child is more than twice as likely to be hospitalized from asthma; a Latino child is 40 percent more likely to die from asthma.  So if you care about low-income, minority communities, start protecting the air that they breathe, and stop trying to rob them of their health care.  (Applause.)  You could also expand Medicaid in your states, by the way.  (Laughter.) 

    Here’s the thing.  We've heard these same stale arguments before.  Every time America has made progress, it's been despite these kind of claims.  Whenever America has set clear rules and smarter standards for our air, our water, our children’s health, we get the same scary stories about killing jobs and businesses and freedom.  It's true. 

    I'm going to go off script here just for a second.  (Laughter.)  Because this is important -- because sometimes I think we feel as if there’s nothing we can do.  Tomorrow is my birthday, so I'm starting to reflect on age.  And in thinking about what we were doing heretoday, I was reminded about landing in Los Angeles to attend a college as a freshman, as an 18-year-old.  And it was late August.  I was moving from Hawaii.  And I got to the campus, and I decided -- I had a lot of pent-up energy and I wanted to go take a run.  And after about five minutes, suddenly I had this weird feeling, I couldn't breathe.  And the reason was, back in 1979, Los Angeles still was so full of smog that there were days where people who were vulnerable just could not go outside.  And they were fairly frequent.

    And folks who are older than me can remember the Cayuga River burning because of pollution, and acid rain threatening to destroy all the great forests of the Northeast.  And you fast-forward 30, 40 years later, and we solved those problems.  But at the time, the same characters who are going to be criticizing this plan were saying, this is going to kill jobs, this is going to destroy businesses, this is going to hurt low-income people, it's going to be wildly expensive.  And each time, they were wrong. 

    And because we pushed through, despite those scaremongering tactics, you can actually run in Los Angeles without choking.  And folks can actually take a boat out on that river.  And those forests are there.

    So we got to learn lessons.  We got to know our history.  The kinds of criticisms that you're going to hear are simply excuses for inaction.  They’re not even good business sense.  They underestimate American business and American ingenuity. 

    In 1970, when Republican President Richard Nixon decided to do something about the smog that was choking our cities, they warned that the new pollution standards would decimate the auto industry.  It didn’t happen.  Catalytic converters worked.  Taking the lead out of gasoline worked.  Our air got cleaner. 

    In 1990, when Republican President George H.W. Bush decided to do something about acid rain, they said the bills would go up, our lights would go off, businesses would suffer “a quiet death.” It didn’t happen.  We cut acid rain dramatically, and it cost much less than anybody expected -- because businesses, once incentivized, were able to figure it out.

    When we restricted leaded fuel in our cars, cancer-causing chemicals in plastics, it didn’t end the oil industry, it didn’t end the plastics industry; American chemists came up with better substitutes.  The fuel standards we put in place a couple of years ago didn’t cripple automakers.  The American auto industry retooled.  Today, our automakers are selling the best cars in the world at a faster pace than they have in almost a decade.  They’ve got more hybrids, and more plug-ins, and more high fuel-efficient cars, giving consumers more choice than ever before, and saving families at the pump. 

    We can figure this stuff out as long as we're not lazy about it; as long as we don't take the path of least resistance.  Scientists, citizens, workers, entrepreneurs -- together as Americans, we disrupt those stale, old debates, upend old ways of thinking.  Right now, we’re inventing whole new technologies, whole new industries -- not looking backwards, we're looking forwards. 

    And if we don't do it, nobody will.  The only reason that China is now looking at getting serious about its emissions is because they saw that we were going to do it, too.  When the world faces its toughest challenges, America leads the way forward.  That’s what this plan is about.  (Applause.) 

    Now, I don't want to fool you here.  This is going to be hard; dealing with climate change in its entirety, it's challenging.  No single action, no single country will change the warming of the planet on its own.  But today, with America leading the way, countries representing 70 percent of the carbon pollution from the world’s energy sector have announced plans to cut their greenhouse gas emissions.  In December, with America leading the way, we have a chance to put in place one of the most ambitious international climate agreements in human history.  

    And it’s easy to be cynical and to say climate change is the kind of challenge that’s just too big for humanity to solve.  I am absolutely convinced that’s wrong.  We can solve this thing. But we have to get going.  It's exactly the kind of challenge that's big enough to remind us that we’re all in this together. 

    Last month, for the first time since 1972, NASA released a “blue marble,” a single snapshot of the Earth taken from outer space.  And so much has changed in the decades between that first picture and the second.  Borders have shifted, generations have come and gone, our global population has nearly doubled.  But one thing hasn’t changed -- our planet is as beautiful as ever.  It still looks blue.  And it's as vast, but also as fragile, as miraculous as anything in this universe. 

    This “blue marble” belongs to all of us.  It belongs to these kids who are here.  There are more than 7 billion people alive today; no matter what country they’re from, no matter what language they speak, every one of them can look at this image and say, “That’s my home.”  And “we’re the first generation to feel the impact of climate change; we're the last generation that can do something about it.” We only get one home.  We only get one planet.  There’s no plan B. 

    I don't want my grandkids not to be able to swim in Hawaii, or not to be able to climb a mountain and see a glacier because we didn’t do something about it.  I don't want millions of people’s lives disrupted and this world more dangerous because we didn’t do something about it.  That would be shameful of us.  This is our moment to get this right and leave something better for our kids.  Let’s make most of that opportunity.

     

  • 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. 

       

  • Maine House approve Gideon's bill to help more businesses and consumers generate solar energy

    By R. du Houx

    Assistant House Majority Leader Sara Gideon’s measure to help Maine generate more solar energy earned final approval in the House June12, 2015.  The vote was 101-32.

    “We have a unique opportunity to put a first-of-its-kind framework in place to encourage Mainers to participate in energy production using solar and other renewable energy technology,” said Gideon, D-Freeport.  “This strong bipartisan vote for adopting a new, innovative model around energy generation is an encouraging step toward making our state the leader we can be in distributed renewable energy generation, particularly solar.”

    In 2007 Governor John Baldacci started a program that gave rebates for solar panel installations. But when the funds ran out, under Governor LePage, the program ended.

    LD 1263 as amended sets up a process for the Legislature, relevant state agencies and stakeholders to work together to develop policies that create a path for the sustainable growth of distributed energy generation, the generation of electricity near the location it will be used.

    The bill earned unanimous support from members of the Energy, Utilities and Technology Committee last month.  It also has broad support among stakeholders, including utilities, solar advocates and environmental groups, small business owners and consumers.

    “Stakeholders of all backgrounds recognize that forward-thinking energy policies will benefit ratepayers and complement a growing sector of our economy, strengthening small businesses, encouraging innovation and continuing to create good jobs in the energy industry,” said Gideon. 

    Gideon’s measure builds on the Office of the Public Advocate’s work to create a strategy around distributed solar generation following the Public Utilities Commission’s report earlier this year on the value of solar production in Maine. 

    That report found that increased solar generation in Maine could lower the cost of electricity during periods of high demand while avoiding many of the costs associated with conventional electricity production such as transmission costs while providing the environmental benefits of expanding renewable energy generation.

    The photovoltaic systems that produce solar electric have become increasingly affordable and effective in recent years.  The systems reliably produce electricity at a relatively low, stable cost while reducing reliance on fossil fuels.

    According to the Solar Energy Industries Association, other New England states are seeing rapid growth in solar energy production.  Massachusetts ranks sixth in the country in solar capacity with 751 megawatts.  Vermont has only 70 megawatts of capacity but added 38 megawatts in 2014.  Maine has just 10 megawatts of capacity.

    Earlier this week, the bill earned the initial approval of the Senate “under the hammer,” or by unanimous consent.  It faces further action in the Senate before being sent to the governor for his signature. 

    Gideon is serving her second term in the Maine House.  She represents Freeport and part of Pownal.

  • RGGI helps alternative energy sector grow bringing Maine just under $65 million - $2.5 from the most recent auction

     

     

    By Ramona du Houx

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

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

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

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

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

    The Efficiency Maine Trust determines how the revenue generated from the sale of credits can be best used for energy efficiency programs and carbon savings.  By law, Maine invests RGGI revenue into energy efficiency programs and investments. From 2009 - 20011 Maine invested $27 million from its sale of carbon credits in energy efficiency projects, generating $80 million in reduced electric bills for residents and businesses. This activity added a total of $92 million to Maine’s economy, including more than 900 jobs, according to the NRDCM.

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

     “Out of the $2.5 million, nearly $1 million will go to the Home Energy Savings Program, enough to help another 1,000 homeowners invest in insulation, heat pumps and other energy-saving improvements. RGGI is also putting Maine in great competitive position to benefit from the President’s Clean Energy Plan to cut carbon from power plants, so it’s win-win-win,” added Voorhees.

    President Obama’s Clean Energy Plan would limit carbon pollution from all power plants, set improved energy efficiency standards for appliances and buildings, boost clean renewable energy, and help Americans, businesses, and communities deal with the effects of climate change.

    RGGI provides numerous economic benefits by stimulating economic investment and supporting energy efficiency and renewable energy technologies— and their related businesses.

    Alternative energy jobs on the rise with good pay—

    RGGI has reduced pollution while measurably strengthening Maine’s economy by reducing energy costs and creating jobs. The cap-n-trade program also creates incentives for energy efficiency and clean, renewable power.

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

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

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

    Maine joined RGGI in 2007, when the Legislature voted nearly unanimously to participate. The program took effect in 2009 and is on schedule to reduce global warming pollution from power plants by half of 2005 levels by 2020.

    Recently, Stanford researchers have a developed 50-state roadmap to a clean, renewable energy future, proving that Maine can become energy independent. The study, published in the Energy and Environmental Sciences, showcases how each state can replace fossil fuels by tapping into renewable resources available in each state, such as wind, solar, geothermal, hydroelectric, and in some states— like Maine— tidal and off-shore wind.

  • Maine lawmakers send Efficiency Maine energy efficiency fix bill to LePage

     Restoration of dropped “and” reverses $38 million funding cut

    A bipartisan measure that fixes a printing error in the 2013 omnibus energy law and reverses the resulting $38 million funding reduction for Efficiency Maine is on its way to the governor’s desk.

    “The Legislature once again showed its strong support for the clean fix bill,” said Rep. Sara Gideon, D-Freeport, the bill’s sponsor.  “There’s $38 million in funding at stake here, but so much more. Our efforts mean energy savings for Maine families and business – both large and small – that will see seven dollars in net savings for each dollar spent to save electricity. It means providing needed predictability for our growing clean energy sector and the rest of the business community. It means that the people of Maine know that we as policymakers honor our word.”

    On June 11, 2015, the Senate gave its final approval to the bill “under the hammer,” or by unanimous consent. The measure had previously won support in the House by a vote of 138-1.

    "Efficiency Maine has been held as a model for reducing Maine’s energy costs by Democrats, Republicans, business owners and homeowners. I am pleased that we are continuing that legacy of working together to pass bipartisan energy policy,” said Assistant Democratic Leader Dawn Hill of York, who serves on the state’s Energy, Utilities, and Technology Committee. “Today, we are one step away from ensuring savings and energy efficiency for our state's businesses from our mom and pops to our big industry businesses and our homeowners."

    LD 1215, An Act To Provide Lower Energy Costs to Maine Businesses and Residences by Carrying Out the Legislature's Intent Regarding Funding of the Efficiency Maine Trust, simply restores the dropped word “and” in a section of the omnibus energy law. The Public Utilities Commission relied upon that omission when it lowered the funding cap for Efficiency Maine from $60 million to $22 million.

    The bill is cosponsored by a bipartisan group: Rep. Larry Dunphy, D-Embden, the sole returning Republican member of the committee, Sen. Roger Katz, R-Augusta, and Sen. Bill Diamond, D-Windham.

    The measure is backed by energy consumers, contractors and other business representatives.  Supporters include the Industrial Energy Consumer Group, the Maine Pellet Fuels Association, the Maine State Chamber of Commerce, the Maine Association of Building Efficiency Professionals, the Mayors’ Coalition, the American Lung Association of the Northeast, the Island Institute, the Nature Conservancy, the Environmental Priorities Coalition and the Natural Resources Council of Maine.

    In March, as it made rules to the omnibus energy law, the PUC voted 2-1 to lower the funding cap for Efficiency Maine from $60 million to $22 million.

    The PUC sought and received clarification about the legislative intent of the phrase from EUT Committee members who had returned for the current 127th Legislature. The PUC then moved forward with rulemaking based on the law as printed with the error.

    The dropped “and” created the nonsensical phrase “retail electricity transmission and distribution rates.” The term “retail electricity” elsewhere in statute and in the energy world refers to electricity supply. 

    The omnibus energy bill, LD 1559, was passed over the governor’s veto after winning overwhelming support in both chambers. There are 81 members of the House and 21 members of the Senate who served in the previous Legislature.

     The bill was hailed for its bipartisan nature and what it would do to create jobs, lower costs for consumers, increase efficiencies, reduce air pollution and improve the natural gas infrastructure.

  • G-7 nations plan to ‘decarbonise global economy’ and end extreme poverty and hunger

    Article and photo by Ramona du Houx

  • 70 percent support bond to reduce heating costs with expanded Home Energy Efficiency

    By Ramona du Houx

    As members of the Maine legislature’s Appropriations committee consider a variety of bond proposals to send to voters, a poll of likely voters shows fully 70 percent support a proposed $30 million bond to improve the energy efficiency of 30,000 Maine homes. 

    LD 1341, sponsored by Senator Dawn Hill of York, would substantially accelerate efforts to help Maine people lower heating costs by improving the efficiency of their homes through measures such as insulation, reducing air leaks and upgrading the efficiency of heating equipment, including wood pellets, heat pumps, and traditional fuels.

    Overall 70 percent of voters strongly or somewhat support the bond. The percentage of voters who “strongly support” the proposed bond was 42 percent, nearly three times those who strongly oppose (15 percent), which is an important indicator of how well the measure would actually perform on the ballot.

    “Most policymakers probably already know that Mainers want to reduce heating bills, and believe improving the efficiency of our homes is a top priority,” said Dylan Voorhees, Clean Energy Director of the Natural Resources Council of Maine. “This poll shows that, given the chance, Mainers would vote for a bond to help pay for it. We have a very successful initiative going at Efficiency Maine and it’s time to bring these benefits to more Maine people.”

    “We have spent a lot of time this session trying to avoid unintended cuts to Efficiency Maine programs. That has to be our top priority, but it’s really not enough,” said Senator Dawn Hill, the Assistant Senate Minority leader and a member of the Energy committee. “There are too many inefficient homes out there and too many Mainers struggling to heat affordably. Weatherizing more homes is one of the most cost-effective things we can do as a state to lower heating costs.”

    Support for the bond was high across geographic and demographic categories, with majority support from every region, income group, age and political party. Support was particularly high among those over 65 years old, women, and those with a college education.

    The bond proposes to direct $22 million to Efficiency Maine, to supplement a highly successful Home Energy Savings Program that has run for the last 18 months. This fiscal year (ending this month) Efficiency Maine expects over 10,000 homes to participate through a wide variety of home improvements. The program provides information and technical assistance, rebates and loans, and helps homeowners connect with qualified businesses that can provide services to improve home efficiency and install heating equipment.

    “Weatherization is a common sense solution that has improved my home,” said Emily Vail, a teacher in Topsham who recently used Efficiency Maine’s Home Energy Savings Program. “Communities, individuals, businesses, and Efficiency Maine are all working together to generate real energy-saving results for people like me. I hope that more Mainers can save energy and money like I have thanks to this program.”

    Due to previous carry forwards, the program budget this year is $10 million, however, without legislative action, the budget will shrink to $7.5 million next year.

    If the typo in the omnibus efficiency law is corrected, and there are no cuts to Efficiency Maine, existing resources could help roughly 38,000 homes over the next four years. If the proposed bond were approved, it would add another 30,000 homes, for a total of 68,000 homes over the next four years. That is the equivalent of all the housing units in Lewiston, Auburn, Sanford, Waterville, Presque Isle, Skowhegan and Caribou combined. That would result in saving more than 100 million gallons of heating oil over the lifetime of those efficiency upgrades.

    "Like a lot of Mainers, I have an old home that was a real burden to heat," said Kathleen Meil, a homeowner in Rockport who participated in Efficiency Maine’s Home Energy Savings Program. “I would never have been able to invest in energy-saving improvements without the help of Efficiency Maine’s loans and rebates. Thanks to these programs, it takes less oil and less money to keep my home more comfortable. We have to work together to get these cost-effective solutions to homeowners like me before the next spike in heating oil prices comes or there will be enormous hardship around the state.”

    Meil also works at Evergreen Home Performance, a Maine company that specializes in home energy evaluations and weatherization. “I know, both personally and professionally, that Efficiency Maine makes the difference between homeowners being able complete efficiency improvements versus putting them off or not affording them,” Meil said. “It’s time to intensify all of our efforts to improve the efficiency of Maine’s housing stock.”

    The remaining $8 million would go to the Maine State Housing Authority, which works with the Community Action Programs throughout the state to cover the cost of weatherizing low-income homes (defined as those who qualify for heating assistance.) The bond would increase the number of households improved over the next four years from a likely 2,000 to nearly 3,600.

    LD 1341 is co-sponsored by Senator Linda Valentino, ranking member of the Appropriations committee and Senator David Woodsome and Rep. Mark Dion, the Republican and Democratic co-chairs of the Energy committee.

    “With their older, drafty homes, many Maine people struggle to afford to stay warm each winter, especially when oil prices rise, which they eventually will,” said Senator David Woodsome, co-chair of the Energy committee. “Finding resources to expand our efficiency programs is not easy, but it’s what we were sent to Augusta to do. I think this bond is a common sense solution.”

    Like previous sessions, this Legislature has struggled with finding resources to support home efficiency initiatives. This year the legislature has all but rejected redirecting funds collected and intended for other purposes, such as revenue from timber harvesting on public land or funds collected from electric ratepayers related to Maine Yankee.

    RGGI - the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, is made up of nine East coast states, including Maine. It is a successful cap-n-trade program, which started during the Baldacci Administration. Over $13 million has come to Maine thru RGGI and has improved the lives and livelihoods of many families and businesses with energy efficiency programs. Lawmakers have been able to insure funds from RGGI would flow to more of these programs but Gov. LePage wants to change the omnibus energy bill that has this provision.

    “One of the reasons the omnibus energy bill was so significant was because it directed a portion of RGGI funds to be used for home efficiency on an ongoing basis,” said Voorhees. “Now that the programs are running and proving their success, we need to find new ways to accelerate our progress, and Maine people clearly agree.”

  • Gov. LePage's influence over Maine's Public Utilities Commission causes crisis of confidence

     Editorial by Assistant Democratic Leader Dawn Hill of York

    For most, Augusta is synonymous with politics. But, believe it or not, there are some people in Augusta whose jobs absolutely require that they make decisions void of politics and ideology. Maine’s Public Utilities Commission is one such agency. In fact, for these folks, weighing into politics isn’t an option; their duty, is to remain impartial.

    The PUC is intended to operate as an independent regulatory agency but recent decisions by the PUC Commissioners have caused many lawmakers and citizens to question the impartiality of the Commissioners.

    In the past few months, two of the PUC’s decisions have upended law, and rejected data and common sense.

    First, was the PUC’s decision to slash energy efficiency funding, even though the law clearly directed the PUC to do the opposite. In their split decision, two of the three commissioners pounced on a typographical error--the missing word “and”--to dismantle more than a decade of bipartisan energy policy.

    Next, Maine lost a long term energy contract as a result of another PUC decision. In that decision, they reopened the bidding process two months after they had approved the project.

    Decisions like these are shrouded in politics and portend a troubling new era. Along with Governor LePage’s two commissioner appointments, it seems a loss of objectivity and integrity has followed the PUC.

    Never before has there been a crisis of confidence in the PUC like we are seeing today.

    The fact is, the PUC’s job is simply too impactful to Maine’s future energy and economic landscape. Therefore, we simply can’t  look the other way when they are ignoring facts and being political with Maine people and our wallets.

    Some have questioned whether or not there has been inappropriate coordination and collaboration between the Executive Branch and the PUC, leading to influence over their decisionmaking. Because of this, I have, in accordance with Maine’s Right to Know Law, requested public records including emails and calendars between the PUC and the Governor’s office for the past five months.

    As a member of Senate leadership and the state’s Energy, Utilities, and Technology Committee charged with reviewing energy issues facing our state, it is my obligation to ensure that the PUC and its Commissioners are acting in accordance with law.

    My hope is that with this transparency, we will be one step closer to restoring confidence in the PUC.

  • 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 could unlock a solar future if lawmakers pass solar energy legislation

    By Ramona du Houx

    Maine’s 127th legislature is faced with big decisions with long term ramifications – embrace a solar future, or take backwards-looking policies that would leave Maine trailing the rest of the world in solar adoption. Last year the USA instellation of solar panels surpassed any country in the world. They are now cost effective and a durable source of renewable energy.

    Maine gets as much sun as Fla. - that's right as much. And far more sun than Germany does yet every home in Germany has a solar panel on its roof. Imagine if every Walmart complex had solar panels across the USA? The energy generated could be stagering.

    Back to Maine: These are the proposed bills lawmakers are reviewing:

    • LD1263 – The most ambitious pro-solar bill, LD1263 would increase the number of people who can participate in a solar farm (currently 10), create a solar carve-out in the State’s RPS, and create performance-based incentive for solar production (SREC).  It faces the most opposition because it would facilitate some large-scale solar projects which the utilities don’t care for.
    • LD1073  – This would create some sort of rebate for agricultural businesses that go solar, under a new fund administered by Efficiency Maine.  LD1073 has reasonable support and a Republican sponsor; however, as the new funding would come from a (nominal) fee on ratepayers, it faces opposition.
    • LD1355  – This would create some sort of rebate for solar photovoltaic installations installed to power an air source heat pump heating system.  Such systems would be eligible for financing through on-bill billing through the utility.  
    • LD1400 – Gov. LePage promised his own solar bill  – a bill that couches a wholesale slaughter of net metering and the Renewable Portfolio Standard (RPS) under the guise of ‘reducing energy cost.’  It also charges the PUC (whose commissioners are all now LePage appointees) to broker the rates under which renewable energy would be sold.  This bill would have, frankly, terrifying consequences for all forms of renewable energy in the state of Maine.  Very few Legislators (of any party) are as strongly opposed to renewable energy as Governor LePage is.  Most people understand that the best energy is that which is generated for free, locally, and installed and serviced by workers in the State of Maine.

    On the national front, Maine’s Independent Senator Angus King has proposed bold new legislation to support distribution generation that embraces free market principles.  What’s fascinating about solar energy policy, is that it draws together environmentalists and fiscal conservatives alike. 

  • Clean fix to reverse $38 million cut to energy efficiency advances 138-1 in Maine House

    du Houx

    The House on Wednesday overwhelmingly gave its initial approval to a bipartisan measure that fixes a printing error in the 2013 omnibus energy law and reverses the resulting $38 million funding reduction for Efficiency Maine. The vote was 138-1

    LD 1215, An Act To Provide Lower Energy Costs to Maine Businesses and Residences by Carrying Out the Legislature's Intent Regarding Funding of the Efficiency Maine Trust, simply restores the dropped word “and” in a section of the omnibus energy law. The Public Utilities Commission relied upon that omission when it lowered the funding cap for Efficiency Maine from $60 million to $22 million.

    “The momentum behind this bipartisan measure is good news for Maine families and businesses. They are counting on us to honor the intent of the law, help them realize energy cost savings and provide predictability in our long-term energy policy,” said Assistant House Majority Leader Sara Gideon, D-Freeport, the bill’s sponsor. “All we need to do is restore the dropped “and” – nothing more, nothing less. It’s really that simple.”

    The bill is cosponsored by a bipartisan group: Rep. Larry Dunphy, R- Embden, Sen. Roger Katz, R-Augusta, and Sen. Bill Diamond, D-Windham.

    “I think we need to fix this. I’m going to support Rep. Gideon’s bill because it’s the right thing to do,” Dunphy, the sole returning Republican member of the Energy, Utilities and Technology Committee, said on the House floor Wednesday.

    “It's clear that this bill has strong support from Republicans and Democrats. I'm optimistic that it will move speedily through the Senate. Let's do the right thing and fix this, as we should have weeks ago,” Katz said. “To me, this has little to do with Efficiency Maine. It is a simple matter of keeping our word, just as all of us would presumably due in our personal lives. We shook hands on a deal, and I do not believe anyone should use a typographical error as leverage to gain some additional concession.”

    LD 1215 advances after winning a strong bipartisan endorsement of 11-2 from the EUT Committee last week. At the public hearing, the panel heard hours of testimony in support of the measure from energy consumers, contractors and other business representatives.

    The clean fix bill now goes to the Senate. It moved forward after House Minority Leader Kenneth Fredette offered – and then after brief remarks withdrew – an amendment on the floor. His amendment would have married the restoration of the dropped “and” to other provisions about the position of the director of Efficiency Maine and the creation of a new Cabinet-level Energy Office. The amendment was similar to Fredette’s bill, LD 1221, which has not yet been voted out by the EUT Committee.

    In March, as it made rules to the omnibus energy law, the PUC voted 2-1 to lower the funding cap for Efficiency Maine from $60 million to $22 million. The two LePage appointees – Commissioner Carlisle McLean, former legal counsel to the governor, and Chairman Mark Vannoy – voted to lower the funding cap. Commissioner David Littell voted against the action.

    The PUC sought and received clarification about the legislative intent of the phrase from EUT Committee members who had returned for the current 127th Legislature. The PUC then moved forward with rulemaking based on the law as printed with the error.

    The dropped “and” created the nonsensical phrase “retail electricity transmission and distribution rates.” The term “retail electricity” elsewhere in statute and in the energy world refers to electricity supply. 

    The omnibus energy bill, LD 1559, was passed over the governor’s veto after winning overwhelming support in both chambers. There are 81 members of the House and 21 members of the Senate who served in the previous Legislature.

     

    The bill was hailed for its bipartisan nature and what it would do to create jobs, lower costs for consumers, increase efficiencies, reduce air pollution and improve the natural gas infrastructure.

  • 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

  • Tax Day marks 100 days of inaction on Climate Change in Congress - with RGGI Maine positioned well

    “Our health and livelihoods are being put on the line for dirty polluter profits,” said Morgan Rogers, Campaigns Director of Environment Maine at an event with Environment Maine and Maine Conservation Alliance highlighting the inaction of Congress on climate change in Portland, Maine. Photo by Alex Cornell du Houx

     by Ramona du Houx

    Environment Maine and Maine Conservation Alliance marked 100 days of inaction on climate change in Congress.

    Stationed outside the Post Office, as Mainers mailed out their taxes before the April 15th deadline, the groups delivered two giant checks to fossil fuel industries, and their allies in Congress, representing the enormous tax breaks that are granted to oil and gas corporations.

    These unnecessary tax breaks serve only to increase the profits of large corporations that take advantage of them. Some of these laws have been on the books from the 1800’s when the oil industry and coal industries were in their infancy. Now, theses corporations don’t need government subsidies but small businesses, and working people do.

     April 15th is not only Tax Day, it marks a significant legislative benchmark: 100 days of the Senator Mitch McConnell-led Senate.

    “As Mainers head to the Post Office to pay their taxes, fossil fuel industries are being granted enormous tax breaks. At the same time, Congress is doing the polluters’ dirty work by attempting to block the EPA’s Clean Power Plan proposal. In fact, nothing has been done to act on climate change in the last 100 days. Our health and livelihoods are being put on the line for dirty polluter profits,” said Morgan Rogers, Campaigns Director of Environment Maine.

     The groups delivered two checks: the first, made out for $721 million from the fossil fuel industry to their allies in Congress, representing the amount they spent this past year’s election cycle. The second was written out the fossil fuel industries for $37.5 billion, representing the amount the oil and gas industries receive in tax breaks and subsidies each year.

     "The federal government subsidy for oil, coal and gas is just a baseline number: the $37.5 billion does not include the price of environmental externalities, such as air pollution and asthma, which would bring the total cost to over $500 billion. Mainers are paying to support an industry that exacerbates climate change and endangers our health," said Melissa Mann, Advocacy Coordinator for the Maine Conservation Alliance. (photo to the right by Alex Cornell du Houx)

    Maine is particularly well positioned for these changes because of its participation in the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, or RGGI, since 2009. The cap-n-trade initiative is the first regional program in the United States to limit global warming pollution from power plants, sell permits to emit carbon, and invest the revenues in energy efficiency and clean energy initiatives. RGGI started in Maine when Governor John Baldacci received an unanimous vote from the legislature supporting his RGGI law. All nine states participating in RGGI have used the carbon savings to lower their carbon footprint in similar ways.

    RGGI has helped to reduce regional global warming pollution by more than 30 percent. At the same time, it has added more than $2.3 billion in economic value to participating states. And it has funded energy-efficiency measures that will save residential, commercial and industrial electricity customers more than $1 billion on their energy bills.

    In the first three years of this program, Maine generated $80 million in reduced electric bills for Maine businesses and people, which added $92 million to Maine’s economy, according to Efficiency Maine Trust.

    Maine will have to change little in order to comply with the new standards and could become a leader on the Clean Power Plan.

    Both Maine U.S. Senators King and Collins, as well as U.S. Representative Pingree have supported shifting away from paying out huge subsidies to oil every time the vote comes up in Congress. 

    SAPPI - a paper company in Skhowegan, Maine has cut back on polution somewhat since RGGI.

    Photo by Ramona du Houx

    There is stong public support for the EPA’s Clean Power Plan proposal as poll after poll show supermajorities in favor of climate action.  

     Climate change continues to emerge as a concern for most Americans with 2014 exit polling from the New York Times showing nearly 6 out of 10 voters believe it is an “important issue.” A 2014 NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll shows that 67 percent of Americans support the carbon regulations proposed by President Obama and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

    The EPA is in the process of finalizing standards to limit carbon pollution form dirty power plants. As proposed, the EPA’s Clean Power Plan (CPP) will result in the reduction of carbon dioxide emissions from the power sector by approximately 30 percent from 2005 levels by 2030 nationwide. Each state has broad flexibility to create plans to best achieve the emission reduction targets.

    As Senator McConnell cynically and irresponsibly advises states to ignore the EPA’s Clean Power Plan, the irony is that states are willing, well positioned, and with the necessary flexibility to comply withcarbon pollution limits in a tailored way that not only meets their needs, but positions them to be more competitive economically.

    Both Maine U.S. Senators King and Collins, as well as U.S. Representative Pingree have supported shifting away from paying out huge subsidies to oil every time the vote comes up in Congress. 

     

  • President Obama announces jobs for Veterans in Solar Energy

    Continuing To Focus on Solar Energy

    Watch on YouTube

    April 3rd, President Obama visited Hill Air Force Base in Salt Lake City, Utah to host a roundtable on clean energy, tour solar installations on the base, and talk about the importance of clean energy jobs.

    With the United States generating 20 times more solar electricity than when the President took office, we’ve made substantial progress -- and in his remarks today, the President announced more actions to drive growth in the solar industry while supporting our nation's veterans.

    "What I'm doing here today is to highlight the fact that the solar industry is actually adding jobs 10 times faster than the rest of the economy," President Obama said. "They're good-paying jobs that are helping folks enter into the middle class. And today, the President announced three new actions to build on this progress.

    First, he announced a new goal to train 75,000 people to enter the solar workforce by 2020, an increase on our previous goal of 50,000 solar workers. To reach this goal, the Department of Energy launched their SunShot Initiative’s Solar Instructor Training Network, which has trained 1,000 certified solar instructors and nearly 30,000 students nationwide in the last five years.

    Second, the President announced the launch of a Solar Ready Vets Program. This initiative will train transitioning military service personnel, including those stationed at the Hill Air Force Base, for careers in the quickly growing solar industry. Service members will learn how to size and install solar panels, connect electricity to the grid, and comply with local building codes, making them employable in our 21st-century job market.

    Finally, the President announced new ways in which more veterans can use the post-9/11 GI Bill for solar jobs training. "I've said it before, and I think employers are starting to catch on, if you really want to get the job done, hire a veteran," President Obama said. More than 30 percent of the federal workforce is now made up of veterans, and this new initiative will enable more veterans to use their GI Bill benefits to participate in job-driven training programs through local community colleges. This gives veterans across the country the opportunity to quickly learn the skills needed for good-paying jobs in the solar industry.

    These new initiatives will allow us to keep our economy growing, create even more new jobs, and generate opportunities for our veterans and more middle-class Americans.

    President Obama, with Col. Ronald E. Jolly,  Commander, 75th Air Base Wing, tours the solar array at Hill Air Force Base in Layton, Utah

    President Barack Obama, with Col. Ronald E. Jolly, Commander, 75th Air Base Wing, tours the solar array at Hill Air Force Base in Layton, Utah, April 3, 2015. (Official White House Photo by Lawrence Jackson)

  • Maine lawmakers work together to fix energy-efficiency funding cut

    By Ramona du Houx

    A bipartisan group of lawmakers on Wednesday unveiled a bill to fix a printing error in the omnibus energy law and reverse a $38 million funding reduction for Efficiency Maine. 

    “The omnibus energy bill was negotiated in good faith. The intent of the legislation was clear, and the most straightforward and honest solution is to correct that typographical error and move forward. We are a bipartisan group committed to a simple fix for the good of Maine families and businesses, from mom-and-pop operations to big paper companies,” said Assistant House Majority Leader Sara Gideon, D-Freeport, the bill’s sponsor. 

    “To me this is really simple. We shook hands and made a deal, and now we need to honor that deal, just as all of us would presumably do in our personal lives,” said Sen. Roger Katz, the lead Senate cosponsor of the bill. 

    Joining Gideon and Katz in the announcement were cosponsors Rep. Larry Dunphy, R-Embden, and Sen. Bill Diamond, D-Windham.

    “We had an agreement. We shook hands. We all made concessions to make that bill happen. I think it’s a matter of integrity: we simply do what we agreed to do and get on with the business of serving our constituents. We know what the intent was. I don’t think there should be anything attached to restoring the omitted word. It needs to be clean,” said Dunphy, the sole returning Republican member of the Energy, Utilities and Technology Committee. 

    “What you’re seeing today is what we hope will last throughout the session: that is reasonableness – people getting together, Democrats and Republicans, on a clean fix,” said Diamond. “I think 95 percent of Mainers would look at what happened and say ‘My gosh, this is a typo. Let’s clean it up and fix it.’ The vast majority of Mainers would agree what we’re doing is right, that it’s a clean fix and we should get it done.”

    Kibby wind farm had bipartisan backing and the PUC ensured wind energy was part of the renewable energies to use. With the Baldacci administration energy issues were bipartisan issues. photo by Ramona du Houx.

    The bill announced Wednesday is a different one from the one that died last week after

    Republican leaders on the Legislative Council voted against letting it in as an after-deadline bill. The current bill uses an existing bill title as a vehicle and does not need the approval of the Legislative Council.

    The bill will be referred to the Energy, Utilities and Technology Committee, which will schedule a public hearing before making its recommendation to the full Legislature.

     On March 17, the PUC voted 2-1 to lower the cap for Efficiency Maine from $60 million to $22 million as it made rules to implement the omnibus energy law. The PUC relied on the erroneous language of the misprinted law even after it received clarification about the Legislature’s intent from a bipartisan group of lawmakers who had worked on the bill.

    Newly appointed Commissioner Carlisle McLean, former legal counsel to Gov. Paul LePage, joined Chairman Mark Vannoy, another LePage appointee, in lowering the funding cap. Commissioner David Littell voted against the action.

    The word “and” was dropped from a phrase about the Efficiency Maine funding formula after the bill left the committee, creating the nonsensical phrase “retail electricity transmission and distribution rates.” The term “retail electricity” elsewhere in statute and in the energy world refers to electricity supply.

    The PUC sought and received clarification about the legislative intent of the phrase from EUT Committee members who had returned for the current 127th Legislature. The PUC then moved forward with rulemaking on the Efficiency Maine funding formula based on the law as printed with the error.

    The omnibus energy bill, LD 1559, was passed over the governor’s veto after winning overwhelming support in both chambers. There are 81 members of the House and 21 members of the Senate who served in the previous Legislature.

    The bill was hailed for its bipartisan nature and what it would do to create jobs, lower costs for consumers, increase efficiencies, reduce air pollution and improve the natural gas infrastructure. 

     

  • Repubican reading of law will cost Mainers $250 Million in higher energy bills and jobs lost

    By Ramona du Houx

    Businesses and energy experts gathered today to inform Mainers that a one-word typographical error in the omnibus energy law passed in 2013 will cost Maine energy consumers $250 million if not corrected by the Legislature or the Public Utilities Commission (PUC).

    The missing word “and” in the law allowed the PUC to ignore the Legislature’s intent and drastically limit energy efficiency funding, leaving Efficiency Maine to dramatically curtail its efficiency programs in the near future. In addition to the missed energy savings, suddenly scores of energy efficiency businesses that had begun to gear up for expanded operations to serve homes and businesses now face uncertainty that could freeze job creation and lead to layoffs if not addressed.

    “The omnibus energy bill put Maine on a path toward reducing energy bills as much as possible with growing investments in energy efficiency,” said Dylan Voorhees, Clean Energy Director at the Natural Resources Council of Maine. “This mistaken decision will send Maine backwards, with far higher energy bills, which will hurt everyone from individual households to the state’s largest employers. If this mistake is not fixed over the next decade, it could end up costing consumers nearly one billion dollars.”

    “Efficiency Maine Trust’s efforts to reduce Maine’s electricity usage, particularly during peak periods, are the most effective tool we have to fight the growing cost of transmission infrastructure and generation capacity requirements, said  Tim Schneider, Maine’s Public Advocate. “Ensuring they have the resources they need to continue this work will benefit all ratepayers.”

    This summer, Efficiency Maine (EM) will begin developing its next Three-year Plan, including proposed budgets for its full range of programs for businesses and homes. If the PUC-imposed cap on funding remains in place, it would put efficiency funding roughly $40-80 million less than what was expected over the three years. (This is based on EM calculations of the amount of cost-effective efficiency available to minimize consumer bills, required by law.)

    If not corrected before the Three-year Plan is approved, this would leave energy consumers paying about $250 million more in energy bills than they would under the scenario intended by the Legislature. By 2025, the net increase in energy bills could reach $1 billion if this mistaken cap stays in place.

    "Maine people are really starting to understand the importance of reducing their home energy needs to protect themselves from fuel cost volatility and rising prices," said Richard Burbank, President of Evergreen Home Performance. “My company has expanded to meet homeowner demand for insulation, air sealing and high efficiency heating that Efficiency Maine has helped spark. The number one barrier to expansion of my company of 23 people is the unpredictability in Augusta in terms of energy efficiency initiatives.”

    Although reduced funding for energy efficiency would have very broad impacts, the cuts would have especially devastating impacts on some specific groups, programs, and goals:

     

    • Electricity costs will be higher for the state’s largest industrial companies: The drastic cap determined by the PUC would likely mean the end of funding for intensive programs to work with large customers on complex, multi-year efficiency upgrades. Over the past two years this program has yielded $31 million in savings.
    • Heating efficiency programs: The cuts to funding for programs to save electricity for ratepayers would likely force Efficiency Maine to defund efficiency programs that save heating oil to compensate. These programs currently serve homes, businesses, and industry.
    • Heat pumps: Support for heat pumps could be especially hard hit, because these rebates were to be funded out of revenue now to be capped by the PUC decision.
    • Meeting Maine’s contractual commitments to ISO-NE to reduce demand for power: Maine will find it increasingly difficult to meet its obligations to meet power needs through inexpensive energy efficiency, which were based on sufficient steady funding. That will leave ratepayers relying more heavily on more expensive generation.
    • Introducing enormous uncertainty into energy efficiency markets: If left in place, the cap will mean Efficiency Maine must scale back programs, most of which were seeing record numbers of participating homes and businesses. But which ones and by how much? This kind of uncertainty has historically been an impediment to growing Maine’s clean energy sector and increasing efficiency jobs.

     

    “A core-part of our business is helping commercial customers save money on energy through energy-efficient systems, from lighting to HVAC through the prescriptive, custom and advanced buildings programs,” said Michael Chonko, director of mechanical engineering for SMRT Architects & Engineers. “Efficiency Maine programs provide customers with the technical and financial assistance and independent perspective that help them capture long-term energy savings. The huge cutback we’re now anticipating means fewer customers getting that help, and that means more inefficient equipment and higher bills.”

    “Between the governor, Emera Maine, Efficiency Maine, and businesses across the state, Maine has become a leader in helping people lower heating bills with high-efficiency ductless heat pumps,” said Roger Willett, a representative from Mitsubishi Electric. “The heat pump program has already saved Maine families millions of dollars in fossil fuel usage, money that has a direct impact on the local economy.  It has also created hundreds of well paying jobs for contractors and service companies. This cut would send a huge disruption through programs and scale back efforts to increase heat pumps just when momentum is growing.”

    There are two immediate chances to correct the flawed cap on Efficiency Maine. The PUC could “reconsider” its decision if petitioned within 20 days of its decision, which several groups have indicated they plan to do. The Maine Legislature could also make the statute less ambiguous by passing legislation to simply put the missing “and” back.

    In 2013, a bipartisan Legislature approved an Omnibus Energy Bill, which was supposed to increase funding for energy efficiency efforts for Maine’s businesses and residents, and create a more rational and predictable process for funding energy efficiency. Last week, the Public Utilities Commission voted 2-1 to permanently slash energy-efficiency funding, based on its flawed response to a one-word typographical error in the law which sets an upper limit on efficiency funding from ratepayers. No one disputes the previous Legislature’s clear intent to cap set this limit at $60 million, but the PUC reading of the wording sets the cap at $22 million – below funding levels now planned for the coming fiscal year.

    Several lawmakers have indicated their interest in honoring the omnibus bill intent by fixing the law, however the political pathway for this happening is still unclear.

  • 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.

  • Community based solar installment effort in Freeport

    By Ramona du Houx
    Freeport has teamed up with Insource Renewables of Pittsfield and Assured Solar Energy of North Yarmouth to launch Solarize Freeport, an effort to reduce the cost of solar equipment and installation for residents in 2015.

    Solarize Freeport encourages local property owners to install a solar energy system between May and October of this year. Those who sign a contract prior to noon on May 2 will qualify for bulk pricing – the driving force behind lowering the cost of solar energy systems in Freeport. The greater the number of participants in the program, the lower the pricing on equipment and installation. '

    According to The Town of Freeport they have already collected the names of nearly 200 residents who are interested in exploring solar power for their home.

    The Solarize model being used in Freeport builds on the earlier efforts of communities across the United States to increase the amount of solar energy installed in their towns or cities.  Oregon, Washington, Massachusetts, Vermont, and New Hampshire have used this collective model to install more solar arrays.  Solarize Freeport is the first official effort of its kind in Maine.

    Town planner, Donna Larson, has been instrumental in bringing the Solarize movement to Freeport. Working with Solarize organizers in other states, Larson organized and led a volunteer committee to select installation partners for the project.

    “The Freeport Comprehensive Plan encourages the use of renewable energy to ensure reliable electricity,” said Larson. “The Plan also recognizes the high initial cost of these installations and suggests that the market should be monitored so that action can be taken when the time is right. Well, now is the right time.” Larson noted the nearly 50 percent drop in the cost of solar modules over the past 5 years, the improving economy, the uncertainty of electricity costs, and the expiration of the 30 percent federal tax credit at the end of 2016 as creating strong incentives to act now.

    “The prices that are being offered through Solarize Freeport will bring the installed price down by about 10 percent – or about $1,500 for an average sized system,” explained Larson. &ld