The quest to be carbon neutral begins

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By: Paige Riddell, Staff Writer

Maine leads New England in wind power, but Governor Janet Mills hopes to put us in the lead for the United States. Mills has made climate change her top priority, making claims of reducing carbon emissions by 45% by 2030 and 80% by 2050. Governor Mills shocked everyone when she announced that she signed an executive order stating Maine would be going carbon neutral by 2045. Mills made this announcement during her two-minute speech at the United Nations Climate Action Summit.

“We all have what it takes to combat climate change, to protect the irreplaceable earth we share and care for,” Governor Mills said in her remarks. “What is more precious than water, air, soil, the health and happiness of our children and our children’s children and yours? For all of them, today, by Executive Order, I am pledging that Maine will be carbon neutral by 2045.”

Becoming 100% carbon neutral takes a large push effort, but Maine is already doing quite well with renewable energy. As of 2018 three-fourths of Maine’s net electricity comes from renewable sources, according to the U.S Energy Information Administration. This renewable energy breaks down to 31% of our electricity comes from hydroelectricity, 22% from biomass (mainly wood products), and 21% from wind. Maine also leads New England in wind power generation and ranks sixth in the nation in its electricity generated from wind.

“The climate crisis is a threat to our environment, to our economy, to our very identity as Maine people,” Mills said during her address.

Maine’s carbon emissions have been dropping at a significant rate over the past years. As stated in the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI) 2016 Annual Report, Maine’s emissions decreased by 30% between 2004 and 2015. This significant change is due primarily to a shift to renewable energy sources and not because of transportation emissions, which make up about half of all emissions in the state. Even with such a reduction in our carbon emissions, is it possible to go carbon neutral? According to Aaron Witham the Assistant Director for Sustainable Programs here at USM;

This plan is very aggressive for the state of Maine, according to Aaron Witham, the Assistant Director for Sustainable Programs here at USM, but it is a very achievable goal. USM, as an institution, has the same intention with an expedited timeline becoming carbon neutral by 2040. There are three things USM is doing to take action on this plan.

The first one being an Energy Service Company (ESCO), which has officially launched this fall, the purpose of this project is to reduce energy use in all buildings. The first two to be assessed are Bailey and Anderson Halls in Gorham. USM has an outside company come and try and identify what to do to reduce energy load, such as mechanical and lighting. The point of this is to see what improvements can be made to use fewer fossil fuels.

The second action step at USM is to acquire solar power to replace the energy that the school has previously bought from the grid. The school has a goal of purchasing solar credits from a bunch of different projects in the state to use green energy. The final plan in action at USM is to assess the transportation on campus to get that to be more green. The school is going to be doing a transportation demand management (TDM) this spring. A TDM is a comprehensive study to look at the whole system function. A TDM looks at how people get to where they need to go, how they drive and park, will come up with a plan for decreasing a single person mode of transportation. This plan is very exciting, says Witham, because this will help USM strategize on how to make a meaningful impact and create a program that is going to work.

With all of this talk about carbon reduction, it’s easy to get in the mindset that carbon emission reduction on a personal level is hard to do. That is untrue; there are so many things students can do even on a hairstring budget. Some of these sustainable choices include committing to getting out of the single occupancy vehicle and taking the bus even if it is once a week. Students also have a lot of control over how much energy gets used on campus, especially in the residential halls. One way to take control is by making sure lights are off in every room before you leave it, including dorm rooms and classrooms. Another option is to plug all devices into a power strip and when exiting the room, shut off the power strip to ensure no excess power is wasted. Also, to reduce electricity waste in minifridges, keep them packed full. The thermal mass keeps things cold; even if it’s not food, keeping jars filled with water will keep the fridge colder without wasting electricity.

Witham’s piece of advice to everyone, “If people just think about their life and how they can live smaller and what I mean is in every aspect of their lives they can live smaller. In a smaller house, smaller cars, vacations that are closer and less extravagant, useless stuff, make things homemade, buy less material like clothes and electronics. That will change the entire culture and be able to use less electricity overall.”

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