Just before Thanksgiving 2018, the National Climate Assessment sounded the most piercing alarm yet about the environmental, social, economic and health impacts of climate change. The evidence overwhelmingly indicates the urgency with which emissions of greenhouse-gas pollution must be reduced. How will Maine respond to this enormous challenge?

Gov. Mills has charged Hannah Pingree, director of the state’s first Office of Innovation and the Future, with assembling a Climate Council to tackle the complexity of taking on climate change in Maine. This very positive step moves us closer to assembling a coordinated plan that looks at how we generate and consume energy. We must update the report of the 2008 Governor’s Task Force on Wind Power Development; the report on Maine’s Climate Future, and other statewide efforts that identify a path forward.

What have we learned these past dozen-plus years? How has renewable-energy technology changed? How have recommendations from these reports been enacted, ignored or modified? What recommendations are coming from leading conservation organizations, university programs and renewable-energy businesses around development of offshore wind and tidal energy, expansion of solar power, deployment of battery technology and distributed electricity generation? The supposedly “low-hanging fruit” of energy efficiency still remains just out of reach for many among us. We must consider the growth in these fields as we chart a course for the future.

To be sure, economic development opportunities abound as we move to a reduced-carbon world. Towns, cities, colleges, universities and businesses are installing solar panels that will ultimately decrease demand for gas-fired electricity. However, the surge in residential and commercial heat pumps and the slow, steady growth of electric vehicles will add to the demand for electricity. How will Maine respond to that demand?

Massachusetts envisioned the movement to zero-carbon electrical generation and issued a request for proposals to run power lines from Hydro-Quebec’s dams through northern New England to the commonwealth. Now in Maine we’re locked in a difficult debate about whether we wish to allow that New England Clean Energy Connect line through our North Woods. We need to have this discussion, and we need to understand the stakes.

Are we ready to make decisions about how to generate and/or transmit “clean electrons” to or through Maine? I don’t think so. We must consider all the angles on this thorniest of issues. We need renewable energy and must reduce greenhouse gases. We need to create jobs for the 21st century that will employ engineers, builders and other skilled workers. We have to balance the costs of creating the energy we consume with the benefits of racing to get to a low-carbon economy.

What will we sacrifice to get clean energy? Are miles-long strands of 600-foot-tall windmills in Down East Maine a good idea? What impacts on wildlife and habitat will massive transmission lines have as they run through the North Woods? Will tourism and the northern, rural economies based on scenic resources, trout fishing, hiking and hunting suffer if Maine’s dark skies and seemingly endless forests endure even greater human impact? What does the cumulative impact of energy generation and transmission look like?

Maine needs to plan before we build. We have an administration that is keenly aware of the threats of climate change, is eager to stimulate an economy that embraces renewable and clean energy and appreciates the beauty, majesty and fragility of Maine’s iconic landscape. This is not a time to allow unplanned growth across Maine. Climate change is real, it is here and it is a ticking time bomb we ignore at our peril. We absolutely must consider what is at stake, and plan for how we need to grow, while thoroughly understanding what we must protect.

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