Maine Hits Clean Energy Grand Slam

July 9, 2019 | 12:03 pm
Photo: stgermh/CC BY-NC-SA 2.0
Steve Clemmer
Director of Energy Research & Analysis

As a baseball fan, I’m looking forward to watching the best players in the world compete for bragging rights in the 90th Major League Baseball All-Star game tonight. As a Maine resident for the past 11 years, I’m even more thrilled to see Maine regain its all-star status as a clean energy leader.

Thanks to the leadership of Governor Janet Mills and strong bi-partisan support in the legislature, Maine hit a clean energy grand slam this year, passing several major climate and clean energy bills. In addition to creating new jobs and reducing the state’s reliance on imported oil and natural gas, these laws will put Maine on a pathway to achieve its statewide target of reducing global warming emissions 80 percent below 1990 levels by 2050.

UCS was part of a broad coalition of groups representing businesses, municipalities, and clean energy advocates that supported these bills.

On June 26, Governor Mills signs 3 major climate and clean energy bills into law at state’s largest solar farm in Pittsfield.

Increasing renewable energy to 80% by 2030

LD 1494 doubles Maine’s renewable portfolio standard (RPS) from 40% by 2017 to 80% by 2030 and sets a goal of 100% renewables by 2050. This puts Maine at the top of the batting order, with the highest RPS in the country by 2030. Maine’s RPS surpasses renewable standards of 50% or more by 2030 recently adopted by other leading states (CA, NY, NJ, NM, NV and VT), as shown in the map below.

Sponsored by Sen. Eloise Vitelli (D-Arrowsic), LD 1494 was enacted with strong bi-partisan support, passing the Senate by a unanimous vote of 34-0 and the House 93-48. In addition to testifying in support of the bill, I was a peer reviewer of an analysis of the bill conducted by Synapse Energy Economics and Sustainable Energy Advantage. The study found that the policy is affordable and would deliver the following benefits between 2020 and 2030:

  • Install 700 MW of new renewable energy capacity in Maine
  • Create 1,900 new jobs in Maine, or about 170 per year.
  • Reduce electric sector global warming emissions attributable to Maine by 55 percent.
  • Avoid $500,000 per year in health-related damages from burning fossil fuels.
  • Result in a modest 1.1% increase in monthly residential and small commercial electricity bills

Maine’s 80% RPS makes the state well-positioned to benefit under a national RPS. The same day Gov. Mills signed LD 1494 into law, Senator Tom Udall (D-NM) introduced a national RPS that would more than double the supply of renewable energy to 50% of US electricity generation by 2035. A UCS analysis showed that a 50% RPS would boost the US economy, benefit consumers, and put the nation on a pathway to decarbonize the power sector by 2050. Senator King co-sponsored the bill because of the potential economic and environmental benefits to Maine of selling renewable energy credits to utilities in other states to help them meet their targets. We hope Senator Collins follows suit, as she has voted in favor of a national RPS at least four times it has come up for a vote in US Senate over the past two decades (see votes in 2002, 2005, and 2015).

Joining the solar revolution

While the RPS is expected to drive significant investments in utility-scale solar projects, LD 1711 is a complementary policy that will allow all Maine’s residents, businesses, and municipalities to become more energy independent by investing in distributed solar projects. Sponsored by Senator Dow (R-Lincoln), it uses competitive markets to deploy at least 400 MW of distributed solar projects of 5 MW or less, with prices that decline over time as more solar is deployed.

By removing arbitrary limits on community solar projects, it provides greater access to clean, affordable power for all renters and homeowners, including provisions that will increase solar investments in low- and median-income households. It will also enable businesses, schools and municipalities to invest in larger solar projects and provides incentives to install projects on landfills and brownfields.

Despite being a northern state, Maine has a much better solar resource than you might expect. According to data from the National Renewable Energy Lab (NREL), a solar PV system installed in Portland will generate slightly more electricity than a system installed in Houston and only 5 percent less than a system installed in Miami.

This bill has a long history going back at least five years. The original proposal was developed by the Maine Public Advocate’s Office following the Maine Value of Solar (VOS) Study in 2014. In addition to participating in the VOS study, I represented UCS in a diverse stakeholder process at the Maine PUC to revise the proposal, which was eventually introduced as legislation. Previous versions of the bill passed the Legislature with bi-partisan support, only to be vetoed by former Governor Paul LePage, who was also a vocal opponent of the RPS.

Governor Mills also signed LD 91 on April 2nd to eliminate so-called “Gross Metering,” reversing a recent PUC decision that penalized homeowners and business for going solar. When combined with LD 91, LD 1711 will finally unleash solar investment in Maine.

Reducing global warming emissions 80% by 2050

LD 1679 establishes the Maine Climate Council, which is charged with developing action plans to reduce Maine’s global warming emissions 45% below 1990 levels by 2030 and at least 80% by 2050. The bill also promotes clean energy jobs and climate resiliency for local communities as Maine transitions to a low-carbon economy. Sponsored by Senator David Woodsome, a Republican from York, this bill shows that climate and clean energy policy is not a partisan issue in Maine.

Electrifying transportation and buildings

Electrifying vehicles, buildings and industry with clean energy has been identified as a key strategy for replacing fossil fuel use in other sectors and achieving deep cuts in emissions. Maine adopted several policies this legislative session that would help accomplish this, including:

Maine’s clean energy future looks bright

We applaud Governor Mills and the Maine legislature for passing strong, bi-partisan clean energy legislation that recognizes the urgency of the climate crisis and takes meaningful steps to address it. Maine can finally rejoin the big leagues and regain its all-star status as a clean energy leader that puts the state on a pathway to achieve significant cuts in global warming emissions.