By Alyson Peabody, News Editor
Governor Janet Mills announced a proposal in late February for Maine to transition to 100 percent renewable energy by 2050. Maine has joined the United States Climate Alliance. The alliance is a bipartisan coalition of 21 states committed to reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Additionally, Gov. Mills proposed the creation of The Maine Climate Council to create a timeline and action plan.
Gov. Mills’ environmental goals for Maine are consistent with the Paris Agreement and the Green New Deal, which failed to move forward in the Senate. The Green New Deal proposed by New York Democrat Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez emphasised the need for the U.S. to use 100 percent clean energy by 2030, 20 years sooner than Gov. Mills proposal. The deal prioritized environmental research by allocating research funds from fossil fuels to be invested in research for wind, solar and geothermal energies.
“According to the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in 2014, Maine was already producing 70 percent of its electricity from so-called renewable energy: 31 percent from Hydropower, 11 percent from wind and 29 percent from biomass,” said Dr. Daniel Martínez, an associate research professor at USM.
Bangor Daily News reported in February that Gov. Mills lifted former Governor Paul Lepage’s ban on wind turbines that restricted statewide projects.
“I believe Maine was a net electricity exporter as part of ISO New England,” said Dr. Martínez. “So, a good chunk of our electricity gets sold to other states in the network. So, can we get to a net 100% renewable scenario for electricity by 2050? Probably, because it is only 30 percent away, but only if we are still consuming energy the same way we do in 2020.”
“It is likely that it will be more lucrative for any new renewable energy generation to be sold out of state,” he said, “which is why I say “net” electricity–Maine would likely still use fossil energy in-state.”
Dr. Martínez said the conversation is nuanced and does not have a simple answer. Compared to other states, he said that Maine more readily uses renewable energy and has a greater ability to transition to 100 percent renewable energy by 2050.
“The goal of replacing less than 30% of generation with renewables is definitely plausible… However, if we decided to only use electric cars and heat with electric heating systems by 2050, then I do not believe it would plausible.”
According to Dr. Martínez, Maine is ranked 31 out of 50 for median household income with a state budget that is 41st out of 50.
“I find it unlikely that we have the financial ability to do this because someone would have to pay for that,” he said.
In light of a recent proposal from the University of Maine at Orono (UMO) to rely on biomass and solar for renewable energy, USM professor Dr. Robert Sanford said that USM should be setting a similar precedent.
“We should be setting an example because we are a public institution,” he said. “People come through here to get their education, so we should be modeling things so we are helping to train students.”
“The skills we empart on students don’t mean anything without a value set that comes with them,” Dr. Sanford said. “When you come to USM you see that we have rain gardens on campus. You see that we are tweaking boiler efficiencies or that we are doing different energy conservation… We are quietly setting little standards.”
According to Dr. Sanford, USM and UMO have about the same number of students, but their budget is twice the amount of USM due to a land grant.
“Years ago when they set up the land grants they tried to put them where they thought the biggest growth areas would be in the future. People sort of misread that, which is why we have unincorporated towns in northern Maine,” he said. “It just never occured to people in the early 1800s when they were setting things up that it still wouldn’t be that developed.”
Dr. Sanford said that 60 to 70 percent of the economy is in Cumberland county. “We are where the jobs are.”
“If you look at what percent we already have, we are well over 50 percent. We are around 75 percent,” he said.
Dr. Sanford encourages students to take an environmental science course because the material can be directly applied to their personal life. The course teaches students about making intelligent choices.
“We see what happens at the national level and we have to deal with people who are saying that global warming isn’t happening,” he said. Dr. Sanford said that there is a difference between weather and climate. “I explain it very simply. If you are in the North Atlantic and there is more ice in the water, you could argue that it is actually getting colder. But, the reason that there is more ice is because it is breaking off from the arctic and drifting down because that part is getting warmer… you can’t just think superficially about it.”
“We do not need another report to tell us what we already know: that our climate is changing; that it is changing rapidly; that it will have profound implications for us and for future generations; and that there is limited time to address it,” said Gov. Mills, according to the Wiscasset Newspaper.
“Energy requires you to think long term and in terms of how things interact,” Dr. Sanford said. “When I see wind turbines I see soldiers that don’t have to go to the Middle East to fight for oil. I see resilience and sustainability.”
Dr. Sanford stated that Maine’s geography may differ from the midwest where the landscape allows for expansive windfarms, but that the state is rich with renewable resources. He believes that everyone taking little steps to implement renewable energy goes a long way.