Maine — as with the rest of the nation — continues to face economic challenges. Unemployment remains a big issue and the high cost of electricity affects the pocketbooks of homeowners and businesses throughout our state. But there stands an opportunity in front of us that will create jobs, lower the cost of electricity and help to wean us off of polluting, financially unstable fossil fuels.
Maine Citizens for Clean Energy formed to put a question on the ballot this November that would achieve those important goals for the future prosperity of Maine. The initiative would ensure 20 percent of Maine’s electricity comes from new renewable energy sources such as wind, hydro and solar, and require utilities to invest in energy efficiency whenever it would reduce costs for ratepayers.
This group will turn in more than the required number of signatures this week to ensure the question appears on the ballot in November.
The benefits of the passage of this question are clear: hundreds of jobs created, lower electric bills for Maine ratepayers, cleaner air, a healthier Maine and more energy dollars kept locally, here in Maine.
Environment Northeast, a nonprofit organization that conducts research on environmental challenges with respect to the economy, conducted a comprehensive analysis based on this question to help inform their decision on whether to take a position on this question. The nonpartisan analysis calculated energy costs for ratepayers based on two separate scenarios because of the unpredictability of electricity prices going forward. In both cases, ratepayers can expect lower electric bills.
Under the first scenario, which is the most likely scenario, residential electric bills will increase by about 84 cents a month in 2014 before dropping by $4.40 a month by 2020 and $8.70 a month by 2030.
ENE also conducted a worst-case scenario, considered highly unlikely. Under this scenario, ratepayers’ electric bills would rise by 95 cents a month by 2015 before dropping steadily until they reach 34 cents a month lower each month by 2030.
Under either scenario, ratepayers would see their electric bills rise slightly before seeing long-term sustainable savings.
But the benefits to Maine do not end there.
While Maine — and the nation — continues to struggle with unemployment and difficulties attracting new jobs, passage of this ballot initiative would equate to hundreds of new jobs for Maine businesses and Maine people. These are manufacturing, engineering and construction jobs, and jobs related to clean, pollution-free energy here in Maine.
There have been claims that this ballot question will raise energy prices, and those claims are flat-out wrong. The claims are based on a fundamentally flawed analysis for three reasons.
First, it ignores the fact that this is a two-part ballot question that includes buying all energy efficiency that costs less than supply. Second, it ignores the positive price suppression benefit of adding more energy efficiency and renewable power on our electricity bills. Third, it uses assumptions about renewable energy prices in the future that are far higher than realistic.
This clean energy question is about three things: lower energy prices for Maine ratepayers, healthier and more efficient energy and new jobs.
Thankfully, more than 500 volunteers have been collecting signatures for the past two months and have been hearing from Maine residents that this is the right idea to put people back to work, drive investment and lower costs. Maine voters understand that the status quo is not working and it is the worst possible option. Maine voters understand that renewable energy will lower electricity prices and will create new jobs for Maine workers.
In fact, in a recent poll, more than 75 percent of Maine voters have agreed that the long-term savings, cleaner air, energy independence and jobs for Maine workers are a good deal for Maine.
Maine needs jobs. Maine needs lower electricity prices. And Maine needs clean air. This ballot initiative provides what Maine needs and tens of thousands of Mainers agree it needs. There will be lots of scare tactics and misinformation between now and November, but we should not let that stand in the way of putting Maine people to work and saving money for Maine ratepayers.
Jeremy Payne is executive director Maine Renewable Energy Association.