Renewable Energy and Global Climate Change

Our society has become dangerously dependent on energy sources that are warming the earth, damaging the environment, threatening public health, and posing long-term risks to our security and quality of life. The warning signs are all around us:

  • Power plant pollution is causing tens of thousands of premature deaths annually.
  • Political instabilities in the Middle East could cause economic and national security crises because of the globes dependence on oil from the region.
  • Average global temperatures are rising and are projected to reach levels this century exceeding anything experienced on earth in more than 10,000 years.
  • A brown haze of health-threatening smog clings to Maines landscape on hot summer days.
  • New fears have emerged that nuclear power plants, hydroelectric dams, and other major energy facilities may be vulnerable to terrorist attacks.


Related Mainewatch Publications:

  • Energy for Maine 's Future (2002)
  • State Initiatives for Clean Energy Policy (2001)
  • Energy Choices Revisited (1994)

These reports are in PDF format. To read PDF's you need Acrobat Reader, a free downloadable program. Download Acrobat Reader

It is clear that we are not on a sustainable energy path. Consequently, reducing the risks associated with energy use should be one of our governments highest public policy priorities. Regrettably, it is not at the national level, nor in Maine.

National energy policy continues to give preferential treatment and subsidies to fossil fuels and nuclear power, and only negligible support for renewable energy and energy efficiency. The average fuel efficiency for cars and trucks in America is at its lowest level in two decades, because Congress has failed to enact increased fuel efficiency requirements. The U.S. has refused to join the international community in adopting a strategy to stabilize greenhouse gas emissions the primary cause of climate change. And the White House is advocating for changes to the Clean Air Act that would relax pollution control requirements for the nations oldest and dirtiest coal- and oil-fired power plants which would mean more air pollution drifting to Maine on prevailing winds.

Leadership in Maine has been lacking as well. There has been no serious energy planning in more than a decade, there is no recognized authority in state government to coordinate energy policy, and the State has made little apparent progress in curbing its own energy use, as it was directed to do by the Legislature in 2000.

Although Maine once was considered a leader on energy issues with progressive policies to promote energy conservation and nearly 50% of its power from indigenous renewable energy sources we now lag far behind neighboring states in the region. As a result, we are missing important opportunities to save money for Maine consumers through energy efficiency gains, we are weakening our ability to help bring about a clean energy system for the entire region an important goal for Maine, since we receive much of our air pollution from upwind sources and we are falling short of our stewardship responsibilities to the environment and public health.

We need leaders in State Government, the business community, and the public at-large to help reduce energy waste, improve energy efficiency, and promote the generation of clean renewable power. We particularly need leadership from Maines new governor.

Reducing Maines dependence on foreign oil and on energy sources that harm the environment and public health should be one of the States highest priorities. A sound energy policy will be good for Maine and good for our economy, since each dollar not spent on foreign fuel or on wasted energy will be a dollar available to be spent in Maine.

In Energy for Maines Future: A Call for Leadership, a report produced in 2002 by the Mainewatch Insitute in partnership with the Natural Resources Council of Maine and the Maine Center for Economic Policy, a strategy is proposed for regaining Maines lost leadership on energy issues. The recommendations are not an exclusive list, but are the most important actions that should be included in a high profile energy initiative pursued by Maines state government and implemented statewide. The recommendations are aimed at achieving four major goals as follows:

Goal 1: Establish State Leadership Maine needs leadership and commitment from the Governor, state agencies, and legislators so that a major energy initiative succeeds, with the following actions as specific demonstrations of such leadership:

  • Maines Governor should make it clear that energy policy will be a high priority of his Administration through staffing, resources, and personal involvement in policy development and promotion.
  • Maine State Government should lead by example by reducing energy consumption 25% by 2010, purchasing energy efficient appliances and vehicles, purchasing a significant amount of its power from in-state renewable energy sources, and ensuring that Maine taxpayer dollars are not used to subsidize projects that waste energy. The Governor should establish a State Energy Manager to track state energy use and oversee energy-related procurement, management, and utilization of equipment and facilities.
  • The Governor should provide a full-time director and adequate resources for the Energy Resources Council (an interagency body established by the Legislature in 2002 to coordinate state energy policy), and the Legislature should hold the Council accountable to meeting its statutory responsibilities.
  • The Public Utilities Commission (PUC) should provide strong leadership on energy efficiency and renewable energy as a way of reducing harm to Maines environment.

Goal 2: Increase Energy Efficiency Improving energy efficiency should be the cornerstone of Maines energy policy, with initiatives aimed at electricity, state energy use, transportation, building codes, and fostering an energy ethic among Maine people, as follows:

  • The Public Utilities Commission should implement Maines electricity conservation program using approaches that are succeeding in neighboring states and the Governor should make a recommendation to the Legislature by 2004 on how to increase funding levels for energy efficiency programs.
  • The State should help reduce gasoline use in Maine by promoting hybrid gas-electric vehicles, adopting policies to reduce sprawling patterns of development, and consider amending Maines Constitution to allow revenues from the state gas tax to be used for alternative transportation, in addition to highway construction and maintenance.
  • The Energy Resources Council should establish a plan for improving the energy efficiency requirements in Maines building codes (which lag behind most other states), and assuring that these codes are enforced. The State should establish Voluntary Energy Reduction Agreements for Maine businesses that improve energy efficiency at least 10% in five years.
  • The State should foster a sustainable energy ethic among Maine people by recognizing individuals and businesses that have shown leadership through major reductions in energy use.

Goal 3: Expand Renewable Energy Maine should support the generation of an increasing amount of clean renewable energy to help displace power from dirtier sources, and ensure that Maine people have a choice of purchasing green power, as follows:

  • The Governor should develop a Renewable Energy Plan that:
    a) evaluates the status of existing in-state renewable energy generation,
    b) assesses the potential for new renewable power in Maine, and
    c) sets specific goals for renewable energy generation over the next 20 years.
  • The Legislature should rewrite Maines Renewable Portfolio Standard so that it promotes clean renewable energy and no longer allows fossil fuel-fired cogeneration plants or tire-derived fuels to be considered qualifying sources.
  • The Public Utilities Commission should establish a "green power" choice for Maine customers so they can vote for clean energy with their pocketbook.
  • The Governor should direct state agencies to purchase electricity from in-state renewable energy sources.
  • Maine should develop a siting assessment and improved regulations for wind power development to help direct wind projects toward sites that are most suitable and away from sites that are least suitable, with legal protection for areas with high ecological, scenic or recreation values.

Goal 4: Support Regional and National Action Maine should actively advocate for regional and national programs and policies to reduce air pollution, increase energy efficiency, expand renewable energy, and help mitigate the risk of climate change, with emphasis on the following actions:

  • Maine should adopt and be held accountable to strategies that will reduce our greenhouse gas emissions to 1990 levels by 2010, as part of the regional strategy adopted in 2001 by the New England Governors and Eastern Canadian Premiers.
  • Maines elected leaders should support regulations requiring old power plants to meet modern clean-up standards, and oppose efforts to weaken the Clean Air Act.
  • Maines elected leaders should support federal policies that increase vehicle fuel efficiency standards and regulate carbon dioxide emissions for cars and trucks.
  • Maines elected leaders should support continuous improvement in federal energy efficiency standards for appliances.

Maine cannot achieve these goals on its own. A high level of collective action in Maine and across New England will be necessary. Other states in the region are taking energy policy much more seriously and are making more progress on actions such as these than we are. The starting point for Maine is for our political, business, and community leaders to embrace a common vision of a sustainable energy system, and to get on with the task of turning that vision into a reality.


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