CONTRIBUTORS

Maine is an energy industry powerhouse

Posted July 01, 2013, at 12:33 p.m.

Henry Ford once said that you can’t build a reputation on what you’re going to do.

This is our state’s challenge as our neighbors threaten to surge ahead of us in saving energy dollars, fighting pollution and attracting the innovative cleantech industries, jobs and investments of the future. In contrast, we were in danger of stalling, sending precisely the wrong signal to investors at the worst possible time.

Maine by rights should be a clean-energy powerhouse. We have abundant land and offshore wind-power resources, innovative industries, research assets and a thrifty cultural tradition that could bode well for energy efficiency. We’re a founding member of the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, the nation’s first cap-and-trade program for carbon emissions, launched in 2009. And we’re celebrating the passage of an omnibus energy bill, crafted with broad bipartisan support, which could substantially spur innovation in the most important emerging industrial sector of our time.

Henry Ford would be inspired.

This week, the Maine Legislature passed a forward-looking energy bill that will change the landscape and open the gates for innovation and the growth of a thriving clean energy economy in Maine. The new bill expands natural gas pipelines and increases energy-efficiency funding, reducing the cost of energy in Maine by as much as $200 million a year. The Legislature also passed, and the governor signed, a law supporting Maine’s two floating offshore wind project development proposals presently competing nationally against five other projects for federal funding.

These improvements add to our already bold, bipartisan state energy initiatives, such as our 15-year-old Renewable Portfolio Standard, which has created thousands of jobs, helped keep more energy dollars in the state, and told the rest of the nation that Maine is open for innovative energy investments. On paper, Maine’s RPS, one of the strictest in the nation, represents one of those wonderful promises that could build our reputation. We just need to hold ourselves to it.

In the face of threatening partisan politics from Washington, D.C., to Augusta, Maine has made some real energy progress. Our cleantech sector grew 31 percent from 2003 to 2010, adding nearly 3,000 jobs, according to the Brookings Institute. This at a time when overall employment in the state grew less than 1 percent. The data suggest that cleantech is our state’s best performer by far compared to other technology-based sectors, including forest products and agriculture.

Maine also has a promising energy brain trust. In the last year alone, the University of Maine launched the first floating offshore wind turbine in North America, and Ocean Renewable Power Company deployed the first commercial tidal project in this hemisphere to deliver electricity to the grid. A forest-bioproducts research center in Old Town is developing advanced new fuel technologies at industrial scale, and Bigelow Labs in Boothbay Harbor is exploring the world’s largest algae collection for breakthrough energy and environmental advances. With its focus on early stage companies, the Maine Technology Institute has been an active investor in clean technology.

The global cleantech market has been estimated at $268 billion, with new investments and jobs pouring in to states that are sending investors clear signals. A supportive policy environment has enabled growth in clean technology in Maine, but continued support for renewable energy, energy efficiency, R&D and environmental programs is critical to maintain its progress. Certainty in the policy framework is necessary for future business and economic development planning.

But we still have plenty of work that needs doing. More than 60 percent of our electric power comes from gas and oil, while close to 70 percent of our homes are heated by imported oil, sending billions of dollars out of the state and region.

We’ve talked the talk. It’s time to put our pedal to the metal, accelerating our state into the front ranks of the new clean-energy economy.

Jeff Marks is executive director at E2Tech – Environmental & Energy Technology Council of Maine. Peter Rothstein is president of the New England Clean Energy Council, accelerating the clean energy economy in Maine and throughout New England.

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