BANGOR, Maine — Six years before Maine utility companies are required to get at least 10 percent of their power from renewable energy sources, a coalition of Maine businesses, organizations and individuals is trying to get that amount doubled.
And if the Maine Citizens for Clean Energy coalition gets its way, Maine’s utilities would have just three more years to do it.
Representatives from three Maine businesses, an electricians union and environmental groups held a press conference at Bangor Public Library on Thursday to announce the start of a petition drive for a ballot initiative that would require Maine’s utilities to get 20 percent of their power from renewable energy sources by 2020.
“I think this started because we saw an opportunity to craft a policy that would get broad support from these different sectors and take it to the people,” said Dylan Voorhees, clean energy director for the Natural Resources Council of Maine, a nonprofit membership organization based in Augusta. “This has been in the works for about two months.”
Representatives of Reed & Reed construction, Gilman Electrical Services, Industrial Roofing Cos.’ Solar Roof Systems and the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 1253 were on hand to show support at Thursday’s press conference.
“In Maine, as in much of the country, construction work has taken the brunt of this Great Recession,” said Hermon resident Scott Cuddy, a journeyman electrician. “We need help now. We do not want a handout, we want a job. Our jobs come from projects. When a new area of development is identified, we need to exploit that area as soon as we can. Alternative energy generation is just such a field.”
Maine Citizens for Clean Energy’s members say their ballot initiative would control energy costs, create jobs and make Maine more energy independent by requiring electric utilities to invest in energy efficiency whenever it would reduce energy costs for ratepayers.
“Bangor Hydro is supportive of renewable energy development,” said Bangor Hydro spokeswoman Susan Faloon. “We haven’t had an opportunity yet to renew the initiative effort, but we plan to meet with Maine Citizens for Clean Energy to discuss the details of the plan.”
Law requires utilities to get 10 percent of their power from renewable energy such as wind, solar, geothermal or tidal power by 2017. This initiative would double that minimum three years later.
“This is really about leveling the playing field so clean energy sources made right here in Maine that don’t pollute are able to compete,” said Emily Figdor, director of Environment Maine, an advocacy organization based in Portland. “And yes, some of them are not cost-competitive yet, but we’ll get there.
“The price of solar energy has come down dramatically the last few years because of policies like this one and Maine has a very minimal standard right now at 10 percent.”
Kurt Penney of IRC Solar Roof Systems said local businesses already are realizing economic benefits from alternative power sources such as solar energy.
“Our commercial clients have already seen the positive community reaction and have immediately benefited from the economic and environmental advantages,” he said. “At Lamey Wellehan shoes in Auburn, we installed a roof-mounted, 34-kilowatt photovoltaic system which will offset nearly 70 percent of their corporate office electrical use.”
Skip Estes of Gilman Electrical Services, which employs 30 people in Newport and about 100 in the state, provided another example.
“Our lighting incentive program over the past few years has saved over 400,000 kilowatt-hours,” Estes said. “That translates into saving three jobs in our location over that time and maybe 12 over the state.”
The economics make sense all around, according to those in the coalition.
“Maine people spend more than $5 billion every year on imported fossil fuels, including for generating electricity,” said Voorhees. “By dramatically expanding investments in clean energy sources like energy efficiency, solar and wind, this clean energy initiative will help Maine’s economy, our environment and health.”