New incentives for installing wind energy systems/Ocean Energy Task Force begins work/RGGI states’ second CO2 auction is a success/Biofuels legislation to be introduced in Washington, D.C.

By Ramona du Houx

February 11th, 2009

Enhanced incentives will be available for projects that meet the highest standards. The program will make potential incentives worth as much as $6,000.

The announcement came at a kickoff event establishing the new Maine Small Wind Working Group. With help from a grant from the federal Department of Energy, the working group will bring together stakeholders from around the State to act as an information clearinghouse for Mainers interested in establishing small wind projects.

“Electricity and energy costs can make for a daunting future unless we work together to build consensus in Maine to embrace clean and renewable technologies like wind power,” Governor Baldacci said. “These programs will help bring wind further into Maine’s energy mix.”

Efficiency Maine, a program of the Maine Public Utilities Commission (PUC), will oversee the working group and the incentives for installation of small wind energy systems.

The rebates were created under a law – sponsored by the Governor and passed unanimously by the State Legislature – to encourage development of wind power projects. The rebate enhancements came through separate actions taken by the Legislature and the PUC.

Rebates provide up to $2,000 for qualified residential wind systems and $4,000 for non-residential systems that meet program requirements, under rules adopted by the Maine Public Utilities Commission in accordance with recent statutory changes.

Under the pilot program, projects which meet rigorous standards for siting and tower height will be eligible for an additional $2,000.

“Wind is an abundant and free resource here, and Mainers increasingly recognize it as a viable component of the State’s energy future,” said Sharon M. Reishus, who chairs the Commission.

The Maine Small Wind Working Group will hold quarterly meetings and periodic conferences, provide expert speakers, technical and financial advice, and create other resources like wind potential maps, case studies and a Web site.

Qualified applications for the new wind incentive program received through the first quarter will be awarded on a first-come, first-served basis. If demand appears to be on track to exceed available funding after the first quarter, a random selection system may be instituted.

For more information and to download applications, call Efficiency Maine at 1-866-376-2463 and ask for Richard Fortier.

For this and other Maine PUC information, please visit: http://www.maine.gov/mpuc/.

Ocean Energy Task Force begins work

The Ocean Energy Task Force, convened by Governor John Baldacci, is in the process of determining how the Atlantic Ocean might power homes, businesses, and transportation in Maine and beyond.

In addition to ocean wind turbines, the task force will explore the viability of other oceanic forces, including waves, tides, and to a smaller extent, the oil and natural gas that exist beneath the Outer Continental Shelf.

According to experts who testified to the task force, generating electricity from wind has the greatest potential among those options, for economic and technological reasons.

“This is where the gold rush of renewable energy is going,” said Habib Dagher, an engineering professor at the University of Maine, who specializes in composite materials and is currently working to develop advanced turbines.

Gale-force winds in winter carry as much as eight times more energy than summer breezes. That means more power could be available precisely at periods of greatest demand.

A proposed wind farm for the Gulf of Maine would be split into five sections, each about 8 nautical miles or 9.2 square miles, containing 200 turbines generating 5 megawatts each.

The target generating capacity of 5 gigawatts equals the power required to replace the use of home heating oil in winter in Maine. More could be generated if necessary. The Gulf of Maine has an estimated total wind power potential of 100 gigawatts.

Other New England states are also pursuing renewable energy projects. Some task force members suggested that Maine should move quickly. Ongoing meetings will continue to take place.

RGGI states’ second CO2 auction is a success

The nation’s second auction of carbon dioxide emissions allowances will bring $106.5 million to Maine and nine other Northeastern states in the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative.

Pete Grannis, the organization’s chairman, said the results prove that distributing allowances through auctions in a carbon dioxide cap-and-trade program can be successful. RGGI is seen as a blueprint for a national program to curb global warming by reducing carbon emissions.

All 31.5 million allowances, each representing 1 ton of carbon, were sold for a clearing price of $3.38 per allowance.

The money, which is to be used for energy efficiency and clean energy technologies, will be distributed in January to the RGGI states: Maine, Connecticut, Delaware, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Rhode Island, and Vermont.

“Until now, we’ve essentially been giving power-plant owners freedom to pollute,” said Dan Sosland, executive director of Environment Northeast, a regional nonprofit research and advocacy group. “Now states can use the funds from these carbon allowances to make our homes, schools, and businesses more energy efficient.”

The first auction, on Sept. 25, sold 12.5 million allowances, raising nearly $38.6 million for the six RGGI states participating.

RGGI is the first mandatory, market-based, cap-and-trade program in the United States to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Energy producers are required to buy enough allowances to cover every ton of carbon dioxide they emit.

The total number of allowances is capped and will be gradually reduced in future years. The idea is that power plants will have to invest in cleaner technology or switch to cleaner fuel as emissions limits tighten.

“RGGI sets a national precedent for addressing global warming,” said John Rogers, an energy analyst for the Union of Concerned Scientists. “To ensure the initiative fulfills its potential, however, participating states must make sure that the region’s utilities don’t buy additional coal-based electricity from outside the region.”

Biofuels legislation to be introduced in Washington, D.C.

For the first time in 16 years, Democrats control the U.S. House, Senate, and White House. And for some, they see this as the best opportunity to get their biofuels legislation passed and signed.

Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), chairwoman of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, will offer a couple of bills that will boost the green fuels and help the environment:

One measure would allocate $15 billion a year in grants for advanced biofuel development, and the other would aim to implement an economy-wide cap on emissions.

The University of Maine is already working on advanced biofuels and would more than likely be a candidate for a grant, once the legislation is passed.

Boxer said the bills would be designed as economic stimulus packages to create more green jobs and jumpstart Barack Obama’s challenge to reverse global warming.

“I believe strongly that we have a recipe for economic recovery,” Boxer told reporters at the Capitol. “The time to start is now, and that’s why my colleagues and I are here to step up to President-elect Obama’s call to action to address global warming and create millions of green jobs in America.”