Our state is faced with a golden opportunity, to create hundreds of new jobs and be a regional and national leader in clean, sustainable energy.

That opportunity is thanks to a broad group of stakeholders – the broadest ever assembled in the state – that worked tireless to craft a piece of legislation to grow our state’s solar energy portfolio, reduce ratepayers’ electrical costs, and provide jobs for nearly 1,000 Mainers who will build our clean energy future one panel at a time.

The bill, known in Augusta as LD 1649, has drawn bipartisan support. It would lead to the creation of roughly 200 megawatts of solar energy in Maine over the next four years. That’s a more than tenfold increase over current levels, and would create enough clean, renewable energy to power more than 32,000 homes.

This bill is sorely needed. Solar is a growing industry, but Maine is dead last in the region for solar installation and job creation.

We know that movement toward renewable, clean energy is needed to fight the harmful effects of climate change. Here in Maine, the effects of the warming oceans has already had a disruptive effect on our fisheries, including our world-famous lobster industry.

But the movement toward green energy requires investment, and a change in the way we approach energy production in our state. LD 1649 gets us there by ramping up the installation of solar energy technology over the state. It empowers the Public Utilities Commission to better help all sectors invest in solar, ranging from rooftop solar installation all the way up to large, industrial grid-scale solar farms.

The bill also tears down the current legal barriers that prevent community solar development. By doing so, it allows groups of people who may not otherwise be able to afford the cost of solar insulation to band together in their efforts to decrease their energy footprint. But the benefits of increased solar development aren’t just for those who put panels on their homes or businesses, or even for the new companies that will inevitably form to take advantage of the incentives to build large-scale solar farms. It’s estimated that LD 1649 will reduce electricity costs for non-solar customers by $58 million to $110 million.

But perhaps most importantly, this bill means jobs.

In Maine, there are already about 300 people employed by the solar industry. That includes companies here in York County, like Talmage Solar Engineering. These men and women engineer, build and install technologies that help Mainers leave fossil fuels behind.

This bill will lead to the creation of up to 800 new jobs in solar energy. That’s as many people who work in any of the paper mills remaining in our state.

Now, there are people who oppose this bill. They have a sort of knee-jerk reaction to government policies that promote clean energy and job creation in the renewable sector. But this bill has the backing of the state’s energy utilities, the Maine Municipal Association and state’s Public Advocate – who is legally responsible for representing the interests of Maine’s energy consumers, people like you and me who pay an electric bill every month.

LD 1649 has already earned bipartisan support in the Legislature. It’s likely to hit the governor’s desk within the next few weeks. I urge you to contact his office and ask him to do the right thing for Maine’s environment, economy and future.

Sen. Linda Valentino of Saco, represents Senate District 31.

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