Maine has prepared the way for a green energy economy; now its time for more federal help

Exclusive Interview

By Ramona du Houx

May 23rd, 2010 

Martha Freeman, director of the Maine State Planning Office, listens as Dr. Habib Dagher explains more about the UMO offshore wind platform testing site to Governor John Baldacci. Maine is building the first offshore floating wind platform in the U.S. and with it a reputation.
Martha Freeman, director of the Maine State Planning Office, listens as Dr. Habib Dagher explains more about the UMO offshore wind platform testing site to Governor John Baldacci. Maine is building the first offshore floating wind platform in the U.S. and with it a reputation.
Exclusive Interview with Governor John Baldacci

With the national focus on building manufacturing jobs in the alternative energy sector what makes Maine more attractive than other states to investors?

“Maine has three major ports, which recently received recovery act funds for improvements. Our three-port strategy connects our ports to railroads, as well as overseas markets by ship. We have a capable productive workforce. We are conducting ground-breaking research in composite wind technology with Dr. Habib Dagher, and his team, at the University of Maine. Bath Iron Works are looking to develop ships to carry the windmills for deployment at sea. Maine industries have built wind power expertise erecting land based wind farms, which generate the most wind power in New England. On top of all that, we have the most offshore wind potential in New England.

“Key to it all is location. A company building a wind farm in New England doesn’t want to ship them from Iowa. Maine is the most North Easterly state in the United States. Everyone coming from overseas lands in Maine first. It’s all about location, location, location.

alt“We are central to the region. To the north Canada needs a way to get their energy to market. Companies there will lease some transmission corridor land, which will benefit businesses, consumers and homeowners in the state because the revenues will be put into the Energy Efficiency Trust Fund to be used, in part, to weatherize every home and half of all business facilities in Maine over the next 20 years. To the south we can feed the power hungry needs of the Boston and New York markets. And at home we can take care of our own needs. This is why the electrical transmission corridors are so important.

“We’re taking advantage of our location and the real-estate that we hold. We’re using it in a smart way within a regional plan that will benefit all the people of Maine.”

Do you believe that Maine now has a more compelling case to the federal government, because of your energy transition infrastructure corridor law, to become part of a major artery on the National grid?

“We have strengthened our case. The New England Governor’s and Renewable Energy Blueprint and the Eastern Interconnection planning process have given us an important regional approach, which is key.

“What we have done is provide a blue print that allows all the New England states to fully maximize their energy potential along with opening up the Eastern Canadian provinces, so we won’t be taken over by the Midwest, and their extension cord. They want to ship their wind and coal power to the Northeast and usurp New England.

alt“The most recent US Department of Energy 2009 National Electric Transmission Congestion Study was very favorable stating that we have shown we can permit, site, and finance, cost-allocate and build new generation and transmission, while encouraging new demand-side resources.

“Our agreement with Central Maine Power with the $1.4 billion Maine Power Reliability Program is also a major part of this process. The MPRP contains plans to build a new 345,000-volt transmission line from Orrington to southern New Hampshire.

“Maine’s Energy Infrastructure Development law clarifies our approach to sitting major energy corridors and indicates Maine’s willingness to host transmission corridors. It also makes sure that the people of Maine will benefit from the revenues the state receives from leasing the land that will be designated as corridors. Those funds go into the Energy Efficiency Trust to help on energy and weatherization efforts.

“We’re rebuilding the transmission infrastructure for the 21st century. We’re developing our renewable energy portfolio and becoming coordinated as a region. The law creates the foundation where Maine becomes the lighthouse amongst all the New England States.

What type of job potential and economic development is possible because of Maine’s green energy revolution?

“The MPRP project is expected to create more than 2,000 jobs, and more than $60 million in salaries for each year of construction for the project. Dr. Habib Dagher is projecting 15,000 yearly jobs in the manufacturing of offshore windmills and their deployment starting in 2020. Then there are weatherization and energy efficiency jobs. You have a portfolio of jobs and opportunities for contractors, auditors, and installers.

“I don’t think energy is the end all be all, but it is a significant part of the economic future for Maine. Businesses interested in developing in Maine need to know what sectors are growth sectors, energy is right at the top.”

The Ocean Energy law establishes the goal of 5 gigawatts of ocean energy by 2030. Within the law are there provisions for fisherman who have to deal with platforms in their fishing grounds?

“The law sets the legal foundation for offshore wind development and wave technology development in Maine waters, and shows the state’s long-term commitment to ocean energy, which helps with potential investment. It’s a major piece of legislation based on the great work of the Ocean Energy Task Force.

“The environmental permitting laws have been broadened to affect any ocean energy project. So fisherman will gain in environmental protection.

“Any projects in state waters are governed by Maine’s ‘public trust’ doctrine, which ensures that natural resources and related human resources, such as fishing of the State’s submerged lands are not harmed. It’s likely that ocean energy wind projects will be sited away from important fishing grounds, for our fishing heritage is strong and should continue. I hope fishermen will not be adversely affected.

“But in case they are the Ocean Energy law establishes a Renewable Ocean Energy Trust. Rent fees from the use of state waters or submerged lands would go to the Trust. Half of the funds would be used to avoid, minimize and compensate for adverse effects of renewable ocean energy projects on commercial fishing and related activities. So, we are looking out for the interests of our hardworking fishermen.”

Maine could become a green energy hub of manufacturing and electric transmission if all goes according to plan. How will companies around the world know Maine is a good place to come to and invest in?

“There is an aggressive marketing campaign, and the industry with its partners are attending important conferences. We hosted the successful EnergyOcean International conference last year in Rockland. This year the conference is in Florida and the DeepCWind Consortium will be represented. Then there is the largest wind energy event in the world, WindPower 2010, with 25,000 attendees. Reed and Reed, DeLorme, Cianbro, Kenway, BIW, and other Maine companies along with representatives from the Maine Port Authority, UMO’s Advanced Composite Center, The Maine Composites Alliance, and the Department of Economic and Community Development, and others from Maine, will attend. Some will have booths, as well as hold a reception. The DeepCWind Consortium includes all these partners, and others. They will continue to put the word out about the opportunities Maine offers.”

Governor Baldacci at the Kibby Wind Farm
Governor Baldacci at the Kibby Wind Farm

When will alternative energy and weatherization efforts begin to lower energy costs?

“We are the most oil dependent state in the union. At the same time we are shifting that paradigm, so we are becoming less dependent.

“We have taken major steps, last year and during the most recent session of the Legislature, to put in place incentives, and to lower or eliminate barriers to the generation of renewable energy in Maine. As these are implemented, I fully expect to see more renewable energy from wind, biomass, solar and water produced at lower cost in Maine.

“The savings to Maine people and businesses resulting from energy efficiency and weatherization will save our people and businesses billions of dollars every year that would otherwise be sent to the Middle East and elsewhere to buy fossil fuels. These dollars will stay in Maine – generating jobs and income for Maine people and Maine businesses.

“If oil prices go higher and higher we will be able to use less and less, so fossil fuels won’t be able to put a strangle hold on our tourism industry, businesses and family budgets.

“These billions of dollars, in savings, will help stabilize our energy prices because renewable energy supplies will increase and our demand for oil will be reduced. This change in supply and demand will lead to a downward pressure on energy prices.

“All these things combined will see our economy strengthened with activity. It will be a real sea change.”

Do you think the oil spill tragedy will put more power into wind energy offshore as a better alternative?

“Yes, the oil spill is horrific. People’s appetite for drilling has changed. Wind power is clean power. We’re also talking about creating other sources of energy like pneumonia and hydrogen with wind turbines; it’s an exciting multi-purpose, multi-pronged approach. People will look at the structures we will build and see the smart way we are doing it in Maine.”

Governor John E. Baldacci at home in his office talks about clean energy issues
Governor John E. Baldacci at home in his office talks about clean energy issues

The National ‘Power Act’ for energy independence and climate change was unveiled April 12th. A critical insights survey found that 72 percent of those polled would like to see our Senators sign onto the proposal. Do you think they will?

“The work Sen. Snowe and Collins did helping the University of Maine with Statoil, (the Norwegian Company that has the world’s floating wind turbine) obtain a long term contract which is built into Maine’s legislation, was critical. That also needs to be a part of the national legislation and the only way to do that is to pass National renewable standards, which feed into all of the climate change issues. They have to support that. It’s a critical link to make all this happen. Companies need national standards on renewable sources of energy to make long-term commitments.

Do you feel that Maine has set the stage, as much as it can for the green energy economy?

I think we’re pretty teed up. The Federal government has already recognized us with recovery act grants for our weatherization efforts for people with incomes at all levels, and for offshore wind research. We’ve had visits from dignitaries looking at our home energy programs, and what we are doing with our credit unions for weatherization efforts. And more visits are scheduled.

They are looking to us to be a leader, and using Maine as an example to other states. I’m proud of that.

We are showing the way on how best to use our location and our natural resources sustainably for clean energy. Maine is increasingly becoming a show place, a model, in weatherization, energy efficiency, and renewable energy— for the rest of the country.

Are you confident that any successor as governor in Maine will carry on with promoting and progressing the green energy economy you started?

“Based on their responses in the newspaper and what I have hard they also recognize what a key opportunity energy represents for Maine’s future.”