HAMPDEN — There has been talk lately of building another pipeline to bring in more natural gas in an effort to lower our energy costs. That could just add to our ailments – socially, economically and physically. Consider what’s being offered and the consequences of accepting it.

First of all, it’s expensive. The price tag of $1.5 billion, paid to an out-of-state pipeline company, would ultimately be passed on to Maine electricity and gas ratepayers. Maine Public Utilities Commission staff have found that money invested in such a pipeline would not benefit ratepayers, and the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court has set a legal precedent by blocking utilities from charging ratepayers for gas pipeline construction. For many reasons, especially economic ones, a new pipeline is not our best option for more and cheaper energy.

Natural gas is piped in from faraway states, and our money runs right back out the same way. Although we have enjoyed low gas prices in recent years because of the efficiency of fracking, it comes at a substantial cost to human and environmental health. Leaks in our aging pipelines can be catastrophic. Add to that the intentional flaring and venting of methane, a persistent and potent greenhouse gas, and you have a practice that is not much better for the climate than burning coal or oil. To develop our infrastructure in that direction ignores these concerns and keeps us vulnerable to fluctuating, unpredictable and inevitably rising fuel prices.

There are viable alternatives today. Electricity from wind and solar is already cheaper than coal and oil, and is getting cheaper all the time. Solar can be decentralized and installed throughout Maine, decreasing transmission and infrastructure costs with savings passed on to ratepayers. Those currently in control of our state government, however, are impeding progress in that direction by proceeding with the likes of the costly and obstructionist gross metering rule, which gives utilities the right to charge customers with solar arrays for power generated and consumed at home.

A plan to install the first offshore floating wind turbines in Maine is now under scrutiny by the PUC, the Maine Sunday Telegram reported on April 1. It should be approved and supported. The estimated cost to ratepayers for this project is around one-tenth the cost of a pipeline. Ultimately the rates from offshore wind would be competitive with other proposals such as more hydropower from Canada, and not subject to control by out-of-state market fluctuations. Offshore wind capacity in Maine could provide 60 times more electricity than Maine currently uses. Such a diet of clean energy would create and keep jobs in Maine and decrease our dependence on fossil fuels (all of which come from out of state), while providing human health and economic benefits for Maine families and businesses.

The fact that the federal government approved a pipeline has little bearing on whether it is good for the Northeast or for the nation and world as a whole. Take, for example, their fossil fuel proposals of late – the opening of offshore waters to oil and gas drilling. That one is totally unpalatable to us in Maine. All four members of our congressional delegation have, thankfully, opposed it. Offshore waters are much better suited for the development of wind power, with less risk to our fisheries and coastal economies.


Our continued reliance on fossil fuels is changing our climate through the release of carbon dioxide and methane into the atmosphere. A Government Accountability Office report requested by Sens. Susan Collins and Maria Cantwell and released last October found results similar to previous reports – climate change is costly. Impacts such as increased health care costs, premature deaths, infrastructure damage from severe weather, disaster relief, agricultural losses, the erosion of shoreline property, increase in military spending to deal with conflicts fueled by drought and famine and destruction from the increased frequency of wildfires currently cost taxpayers billions per year in the U.S. alone. Consider the potential future savings from addressing climate change now by rapidly transitioning away from fossil fuel dependence and avoiding some of these ever-increasing financial losses.

It is unfair and shortsighted to burden us ratepayers and taxpayers with the bill for infrastructure that is ultimately harmful and more costly to all of us. Government should stop subsidizing fossil fuel exploration and extraction and instead put a price on carbon to compensate us for the damage being done. It should step out of the way of the transition to clean energy, and instead facilitate it.

This is our democracy – we should demand it and vote accordingly. Our future will be brighter, healthier and more affordable if we succeed.


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