On the first Earth Day on April 22, 1970, the most pressing environmental problems were worsening air, water and toxic pollution. Today, the issues affecting Maine’s environment — from ocean acidification, extreme weather events, air pollution, higher risks of diseases such as Lyme, and alarming threats to our fisheries and forests — stem from carbon pollution and resulting climate disruption.
To address such huge challenges requires clear, farsighted leadership. Unfortunately, our governor’s current energy policies are part of the problem, even in terms of his own stated priority of reducing energy prices.
Our scientists tell us that we must reduce carbon pollution immediately and dramatically to avoid the worst impacts of climate change. The responsible action is to transition, as rapidly and orderly as possible, to an economy powered by 100 percent clean energy — a goal that is more possible now than ever before. The price of wind and solar power has dropped precipitously in the last decade, and according to the International Energy Agency, solar could be the world’s largest source of energy by 2050. In 2013, the world reached an historic turning point by building for the first time more capacity for renewable than fossil fuel power.
To address the complex threats of climate disruption, we must achieve two major goals: 1) Use less energy through better technology and simple steps like insulating our buildings, and 2) scale-up clean renewable power like solar and wind while phasing out fossil fuels.
But our governor’s energy policies are not based on the reality and urgency of the climate crisis. He has said that the science behind global warming is a “hoax” and a “scam,” and that “conservation is just another word for a Ponzi scheme.”
That’s why he supports expanding natural gas infrastructure, pumping dirty tar sands from Canada, drilling offshore for oil and natural gas and, ironically, the world’s most expensive source of energy, nuclear power.
That explains in part his adamant and irrational opposition to clean renewables like wind and solar, despite the clear economic opportunities. Why he vetoed solar power system rebates, undermined affordable, stable rates for wind power contracts and drove away the nation’s first offshore wind project. And why he is risking $35 million in Efficiency Maine funding as a political bargaining chip, even though the program has proven to be the most cost-effective means of reducing energy prices.
The governor says his major goal is to reduce the sticker price of energy, but he doesn’t understand that current relatively low fossil fuel prices do not account for the volatile costs of fossil fuels and the enormous costs of climate disruption, which we and our children are and will be paying for.
We all want lower energy bills, and if there were no pricing or health and environmental problems with Maine’s current over-reliance on oil and gas, that guiding principle would be enough.
However, we cannot continue burning fossil fuels at the current rate and must plan now to help Maine residents and businesses to use less energy through efficiency (thereby saving money) and to bring down the price of clean renewable power so that all Mainers can benefit.
The truth is that renewables make financial sense and can stabilize and lower energy prices. One recent study, for example, concludes that “in fact, states generating more electricity from renewables often experienced average retail electricity prices well below states producing less electricity from renewables.” According to a recent U.S. Department of Energy analysis, wind power will be cheaper than electricity produced from natural gas within a decade.
The governor should be making an economic argument for clean energy, but his bias against wind power is so strong that he worked to cancel two long-term wind power contracts even when the price of wind energy was lower than the standard offer, and would have saved ratepayers between $32 million and $73 million over the duration of the contracts. As the title of a Bangor Daily News editorial aptly put it, “ LePage’s meddling in energy contracts fits dangerous pattern.”
It is inevitable that our nation and state will move beyond dirty energy towards an economy powered by efficiency and clean power. Gov. Paul LePage’s dirty energy agenda is only delaying this necessary transition in Maine, making it more costly for us all. This Earth Day, we should all contact the governor and urge him to change course and put Maine on the path to becoming a climate and clean energy leader.
Glen Brand is director of the Sierra Club Maine Chapter.