Gov. Janet Mills took another step Tuesday toward positioning Maine as a leader in combatting climate change, signing an executive order directing agencies to develop and implement by February 2021 a sustainability plan to meet or exceed the state’s carbon reduction goals.

“Big, out-of-state fossil fuel companies have too tight a grip on too many Maine people, forcing us to dig deeper into our pockets to heat our homes, drive our cars, and live our lives,” Mills said in a statement. “Enough is enough.”

Under the order, state government will step up investing in energy efficiency, renewable energy and emissions reductions; promoting health and sustainability in the workplace; and building resilient infrastructure.

The order is the latest bid by Mills and Maine’s Democrat-controlled Legislature to make the state a national leader in combating climate change.

Mills addressed the U.N. Climate Action Summit in September, announcing the state’s goals and challenging other states to do the same. It’s a stark reversal of the largely hands-off policies supported by former Gov. Paul LePage and many Republican lawmakers.

Mills’ announcement coincided with the release of an annual U.N. emissions gap report that said countries have waited too long to adopt modest carbon reductions and now must take drastic steps to avert the worst consequences of climate change. Over the coming decade, worldwide emissions of carbon dioxide, methane and other greenhouse gases will have to drop more than 7 percent each year to stop average global temperatures from increasing by more than 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 Fahrenheit), the report said. Scientists say that target would prevent the most dramatic consequences of global warming.

Under Mills, Maine has pledged to be carbon neutral by 2045. It has committed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions 45 percent below 1990 levels by 2030, and by at least 80 percent by 2050. It also seeks to increase its renewable portfolio standard — the share of electricity from sources such as wind and solar — to 80 percent by 2030 and 100 percent by 2050.

To help Maine achieve those goals, Mills outlined initiatives on Tuesday that include:

• Prioritizing energy and fuel efficiency when upgrading vehicle fleets and building systems such as lighting, HVAC, water, information technology and appliances.

• Installing renewable energy generation and energy storage on state property or procuring energy from low-carbon sources. Mills announced the new executive order at the Blaine House, where solar panels designed to supply 25 percent of the electric demand at the governor’s residence have recently been installed.

• Promoting electric vehicle adoption and installing electric vehicle charging stations on state property. As an example, the Maine Department of Transportation will install two electric vehicle charging stations at its Augusta locations, and the Department of Administrative and Financial Services has launched an electric vehicle pilot project, ordering five 2019 Nissan Leaf Plus sedans.

• Reducing employees’ vehicle mileage by encouraging video conferencing, as well as commuting by carpool, public transit, bike and foot. The state also will offer preferred parking, bike storage and other incentives to encourage these options.

After signing an executive order Tuesday, Gov. Janet Mills, center, poses in front of recently installed solar panels at the Blaine House. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal Buy this Photo

A new sustainability leadership committee will help develop a baseline for energy use and greenhouse gas emissions, as well as a plan for meeting the new goals. The baseline and plan will be posted online.

The Governor’s Energy Office and the Governor’s Office of Policy Innovation and the Future will head up the committee, which will include representatives from the Department of Environmental Protection, Efficiency Maine Trust, the Department of Administrative and Financial Services, and the Department of Transportation.

Every two years, the committee will update the governor, Legislature and public on annual energy usage, sources, greenhouse gas emissions, and progress on the plan.

The significance of the order, however, was downplayed by a conservative think tank that lobbies for smaller government and tax reform.

“It doesn’t appear this order amounts to much,” said Jacob Posik, communications director for the Maine Heritage Policy Center. “It’s filled with caveats that make most of it meaningless.”

Saying the order was filled with “flowery language,” Posik said it does nothing concrete other than to create a goal and establish a new committee to set a baseline for emissions.

“All of that is great,” he said. “But when the baseline is set, how does the governor intend for people to make the transition? Electric and energy-efficient products are still not accessible to the average consumer without heavy government subsidies.”

However, the Natural Resources Council of Maine hailed Mills’ announcement.

“Solar power at the Blaine House sends a powerful message that Maine is embracing a brighter future, with its clean, made-in-Maine energy and good paying jobs,” said Dylan Voorhees, the clean energy director for the organization. “Her executive order sets a clear direction for state government to invest in energy-efficient buildings, clean electric cars and renewable energy. Turning those commitments into reality will take perseverance and cooperation across every state agency.”

Mills made her announcement on a sunny afternoon that showcased a visual representation of the new initiative, the Blaine House solar project.

The solar panels were installed by Portland-based ReVision energy, which won a competitive bidding process.

The project comprises two installations. One is a rooftop array on a garage next to the Blaine House. No panels were installed on the sprawling, historic mansion, which was built in 1883 and named for James G. Blaine, a former speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives, U.S. senator and secretary of state.

The second part is a so-called dual-axis tracking array, a set of ground-mounted panels that follows the sun. It uses a motor and GPS technology to turn the panels from east to west during the day and up and down through the seasons. By following the sun’s daily movement and changing elevation, it can produce up to 45 percent more electricity than a fixed rooftop array, according to AllSun Tracker, the Vermont supplier.

Together, the two installations have a total of 61 panels and are designed to meet 25 percent of the annual power demand at the Blaine House and reduce carbon emissions by 26,000 pounds a year, ReVision said.

“Our company mission is to help New England transition away from fossil fuels and towards local, clean, renewable energy,” said Fortunat Mueller, a co-founder with ReVision. “In her first year in office, Gov. Mills has delivered tremendous progress towards that shared goal.”

The project cost the state nearly $63,000 and is expected to save more than $1,500 a year in the first year and offset the energy equivalent of 1,806 gallons of oil. Based on estimates by the state and ReVision, the investment will pay for itself in 29 years.

The system’s performance in real time can be followed at: https://monitoringpublic.solaredge.com/solaredge-web/p/kiosk?guid=fedb8480-b564-4d9f-b239-c56691a20f60

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