Why Maine Needs a Comprehensive, Dynamic Energy Policy
Mainers collectively spend $6 billion annually on fossil fuels – half of it for transportation, another third for heating – and it all leaves our economy. Could we do better? We know we can from simply looking around. Germany gets 30% of its electricity from renewable energy sources, up from 7% a decade ago. Under its comprehensive energy plan, Energiewende, Germans are on track to expand their share of renewable energy to 80% by 2050, simultaneously cutting energy consumption 50% and greenhouse gas emissions by 80-95%. Energiewende has already created 380,000 clean energy jobs, and forecasts call for 500,000 by 2020 and 800,000 by 2030.
Closer to home, Vermont, No.1 in New England in comprehensive energy planning, leads the nation in per capita clean energy jobs. In 2015 Vermont’s clean energy employment grew by 6% to 16,231 jobs, with another 1,000 — 6% more – projected within the next 12 months. Nationwide the renewable energy sector has been adding 15 jobs for every $1 million invested – while oil and gas have created only 2. So, if we kept in Maine’s economy just one-third of what we now spend on fuel, we could create and support about 30,000 decent paying new jobs. Instead, Maine trails in clean energy job creation.
Per capita, Mainers consume 307 million Btus worth of fossil fuels per year, compared to Vermont’s 236, New Hampshire’s 224, Massachusetts’ 213, Connecticut’s: 211 and Rhode Island’s 187. Not surprisingly, we emit, per person, the most greenhouse gas in New England: 12.3 metric tons of CO2 per year, vs. New Hampshire: 10.5, Massachusetts: 9.7, Connecticut: 9.5, Rhode Island: 9.5 and Vermont: 9.0.
In the absence of a comprehensive, dynamic policy framework, which supports local energy initiatives based on local needs and resources, interest-based energy policies are the rule. Energy sources are played against each other based on their protagonists’ commercial interests. Politics and ideology trump fact: “Maine’s comparatively high electric rates hinder job creation”, we are told, even though Maine’s overall retail rates (along with Vermont’s) are the lowest in New England, where rates range as high as 23¢/kWh.
Single issue energy laws consider only a partial picture, leading, at best, to suboptimal overall solutions. Is throwing money at outmoded, failing industries the best way to “save Maine jobs”? How can we tell whether a new gas pipeline would benefit Maine, if that new gas line is the only option on the table and the energy and job needs in the state’s various regions are not considered?
Policies without a well though-out comprehensive plan are likely to be wasteful. Opportunities are likely to be missed. How can the most appropriate choices be made when all the choices can’t even be seen? How can innovations in solar, wind, smart microgrids, energy storage, household-scale CHP plants and more, be weighed on their merits without fully considering the alternatives?
At the fork in the road, take it, quipped baseball great Yogi Berra,
if you don't know where you are going, you'll end up someplace else.