Expect federal laws to fuel energy boon for Maine

Posted Sept. 02, 2009, at 6:54 p.m.

Our nation faces an urgent need to wean itself from the fossil fuels that are changing the climate and risking our economic future. The benefits of taking strong and immediate action will be considerable for the country — and especially for the people and industries of Maine. As the U.S. Senate takes up legislation this autumn, Maine’s senators are well positioned to lead the way to an effective federal strategy to help deliver these benefits.

According to analysis by Environment Northeast (ENE), the American Clean Energy and Security Act (ACES) passed by the House of Representatives in June could direct as much as $878 million to Maine for energy efficiency projects in the next eight years alone. This would translate to more than $2.6 billion in savings for Maine consumers and 7,800 jobs directly attributable to programs weatherizing homes and installing and maintaining energy efficient products across the state. ACES also includes important upgrades to appliance standards and building energy codes. The combination of these policies will help Maine households and industries achieve greater energy independence.

These energy efficiency policies will curtail the waste of millions of dollars, keeping hard-earned money in the local economy and make Maine buildings cheaper to heat and cool. In 2008 alone, Maine spent almost $5 billion on fossil fuel imports. Incentives in ACES would help redirect this flow of precious dollars out of state to cleaner, local resources like wind and solar energy. Maine is endowed with abundant wind power sites, both off- and on-shore. Maine companies like Bath Iron Works are already researching how to manufacture wind turbines or otherwise seize the abundant opportunities of the new clean energy economy. Our state is also in the running to become home to a National Deepwater Offshore Wind Research Center, and federal climate legislation will open even more economic opportunities for our businesses.

Maine is the most forested state in the country, and our forest economy will also benefit from federal climate legislation. ACES allows regulated industries to meet required emissions reductions in part through purchasing approved alternative emissions reductions — carbon “offsets” or credits — from forestland owners who manage their lands to increase the amount of carbon stored in trees and soils. Maine’s delegation is pushing to expand this opportunity to help forestland owners who do not meet the rigorous standards of the offsets program. Rep. Chellie Pingree introduced such legislation in the House, co-sponsored by Rep. Michael Michaud, and a similar bill is being proposed in the Senate by Sens. Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins. As Mainers have long known, forests also offer a local and renewable fuel supply (cordwood, wood pellets and other biomass) that will be rewarded in federal climate legislation and increase employment in the forestry sector. These new and expanded markets, driven by carbon regulation, will provide forestland owners a welcome new revenue stream and opportunity to join the low carbon economy.

Maine’s elected officials, at both the federal and state level, understand these potential benefits. They also appreciate that their influence is enhanced when they take a leadership role in designing and fighting for the innovative energy and climate policies that can deliver these benefits. For example, Maine was among the first of 10 states to adopt legislation establishing the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI), the first mandatory and bipartisan “cap and trade” emissions reduction program in the country. As they work to meet the emissions goals, Maine energy consumers large and small are aided by more than $11.6 million for energy efficiency programs that has come from the sale of RGGI carbon allowances in just the first nine months of the program. Some of these funds were spent last winter to weatherize low income homes and the rest are supporting residential, business and industrial projects that will start lowering energy consumption and bills this year.

Thanks to the support of interests as diverse as environmental groups to paper mills, RGGI is giving Maine a competitive edge in the emerging low carbon economy. Now the state stands to gain even more, economically and ecologically, with federal climate legislation.

We are counting on Sens. Collins and Snowe to lead the fight for this legislation and shape its provisions. We look forward to seeing energy efficiency and forestry benefits delivered to the Maine economy and to the establishment of a sound federal climate strategy to reduce global warming and ensure a brighter economic future for us all.

Daniel L. Sosland is the executive director of Environment Northeast in Rockport.

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