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Competing Visions

Paul Kando

Some of us envision Maine converting from burning fuels to electricity, cutting energy consumption by one third. We see Maine using 100% renewable energy by 2050, creating 31,000 permanent jobs and realizing $8,900 annually in per capita health and climate-related savings. We look to getting 22% of our energy from solar, 70% from on- and offshore wind, 6% from hydropower, 1% each from wave and tidal power -- and paying for the whole transition within 7 years from air pollution and climate cost savings alone. (see: The Solutions Project - 50 plans)

The Roadmap to a 100% Renewable Energy Future
photo credit: Solutions_Project

This bold vision of Maine’s energy future recognizes the key role electric utilities play in a renewably powered future. It allows them once again to generate their own power – using renewable sources. It treats them as partners, creating incentives for them to innovate and partner with local initiatives. Community-scale smart microgrids, for instance, will maximize energy conservation, help secure the power grid and minimize transmission losses. When utilities benefit from advanced technologies and innovation, customers benefit as well.

The State Energy Office wants the PUC to eliminate net metering – Maine’s only solar incentive – within three years and flood the state with more natural gas. What future vision of Maine inspired those proposals?

If we continue burning fossil fuels unabated, the planet will become 8ºC warmer than pre-industrial baseline temperatures. Arctic temperatures will be 17ºC higher, almost three times what it took to lift the world out of the last Ice Age. Without a significant drop in carbon emissions, food will become scarce, large areas will be uninhabitable by humans, and a vast number of plant and animal species will be annihilated. What an inheritance for our descendants!

Luckily, we Mainers sit on a pile of money with which we can finance a clean energy transition. We spend $6 billion annually on fossil fuels, twice the tax dollars spent on the state budget. All of it leaves our economy. Why not “reprogram” those misspent dollars, and invest them in home weatherization, better transportation, and renewable electric power generation -- solar and wind power, energy storage and smart microgrids? This will keep most of our energy dollars in the Maine economy where, experts tell us, every dollar invested generates up to $7 in economic activity. Imagine the infrastructure we can build, the jobs we can create!

True, the future depends on thousands of daily individual decisions that are only as good as the information on which they are based. There is a dearth of good science-based public information and lots of deliberate misinformation. Most of us have no up-front capital to invest in the new systems replacing the old. Therefore we need a combination of local initiative, democratic participation and supportive energy policies, the best of which, worldwide experience shows, are inspired by citizens working around some neighbor’s kitchen table.

There. Two visions of Maine’s future. Do we set goals; encourage initiative; provide factual, science-based public information; remove obstacles that block creative solutions, work together on a clean energy economy, or…?

You choose.