July 21, 2018
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Maine needs a governor who will prioritize clean energy

George Danby | BDN
George Danby | BDN
By Kathleen Meil and Daniel Sosland, Special to the BDN

After a protracted primary campaign and a long week of ranked-choice tabulation, Maine’s gubernatorial slate is set. As voters assess their options for state leadership, two intertwined issues need to rise to prominence: Maine’s economy and environment. To advance both, Maine’s next governor must prioritize a clean energy future.

The good news is that this future is close at hand. With smart energy policy reform based on proven results in other states, Maine can lower energy costs; save residents and businesses money on their utility bills; boost its own economy; grow its workforce with good-paying efficiency, HVAC and solar jobs; and dramatically reduce air pollution.

Of course, Maine’s clean energy future won’t happen overnight. Years of inaction at the state level and a new era of federal rollbacks are hampering progress and threatening Maine’s economic and environmental well-being. But real progress is achievable. Maine can immediately do better by strengthening efforts in key clean energy technology areas and empowering communities to lead.

First, it’s time to go electric. Maine is a leader in moving to electric heating, and now it needs to do the same with transportation. As Maine converts from oil heat to modern, efficient heat pumps faster than any other state in the region, it still lags on electric vehicle adoption. Switching from dirty fossil fuels to electric heat pumps and electric vehicles is an economic and environmental win-win, offering strong cost-savings and deep pollution reductions. Maine can use a number of proven policies to speed the switch to electric vehicles and should have a special focus on making sure rural and low-income residents have full access to more options and the many benefits of going electric.

Maine must also harness clean, low-cost, renewable power — locally and in bulk. The state must put solar in reach of all residents by expanding community solar opportunities and reforming how customers pay and are paid for electricity. Maine also needs ambitious targets for large-scale clean energy. Requiring at least 40 percent of power generation to be renewable (primarily grid-scale wind and solar) by 2030 will advance Maine’s energy independence and resilience, boost economic development, and ensure cleaner electricity that provides even greater emissions savings from electric vehicles and heat pumps.

Next, Maine must modernize the way it plans and manages the power grid. The devastating wind storm that swept across Maine last year highlighted the limitations of long-distance power lines and the need for a decentralized, flexible electric grid. Clean local technologies offer reliable, cost-effective and consumer-friendly alternatives to centralized power stations and traditional utility infrastructure — but Maine needs regulatory changes to ensure fair, timely consideration of these alternatives. Utility business model reform may not make the usual lists of campaign priorities, but it’s crucial to advancing the clean energy future.

Maine also needs to participate in strong regional carbon markets. With the federal government actively undermining climate action, it’s up to states to unlock consumer-friendly technologies and advance clean energy. Maine and the Northeast already lead with the successful Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, which prices power plant emissions to achieve economic growth and climate goals.

It’s time to expand that blueprint for effective bipartisan regional climate policy to a new sector: transportation. Seven states have already joined forces to tackle transportation emissions, the Northeast’s largest source of climate pollution. Maine should collaborate with them to benefit from new funding for transportation sector investments and ensure that rural traditions and interests are represented in any regional program.

Finally, Maine’s communities need to be empowered to lead. These communities are on the front lines of creating a sustainable, low-carbon economic and environmental future. Local initiatives have great capacity to change behavior and demonstrate innovations in energy efficiency, local power generation and smart energy management. In the spirit of our state motto — dirigo — Maine communities are already leading the way with ambitious climate commitments. Unfortunately, state policies and laws often act as a barrier to community action, so there is an urgent need for the next administration to reform outdated rules and laws.

We have the technologies, and we know the policies needed to achieve a sustainable, low-pollution energy system with benefits for all Mainers. Maine now needs a governor who will give top priority to making the clean energy future a reality.

Kathleen Meil is a policy advocate for Maine at Acadia Center, a clean energy research and advocacy organization based in Rockport. Daniel Sosland is president of Acadia Center.

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