Maine’s clean energy economy is poised for robust growth and can be central to an economic recovery following the coronavirus pandemic, according to the Clean Energy Economy Transition Plan, a report released Monday by the administration of Gov. Janet Mills.

“Maine has made combating climate change and clean energy priorities,” said Dan Burgess, the governor’s energy director. “This report highlights that there are real economic opportunities with that and begins to lay out recommendations on how to achieve that.”

Clean-energy jobs, centered in businesses that insulate homes, upgrade heating and lighting systems, build and service solar and wind projects among other things, put 14,000 Mainers to work prior to the pandemic, the report estimated. Nearly 8,900 were working in efficiency jobs, roughly equal to the number of people employed in all traditional energy jobs combined, such as delivering fuel oil.

Overall energy employment had been growing from 2018 to 2019, and the report noted that more than 37 percent of energy-related companies hired new workers during that period. Clean energy jobs were buoyed by recent state policies that mandate greater use of renewable power. For instance: The procurement in September of contracts with 17 new clean energy projects – mostly solar farms – will result in $145 million in spending across the state and 450 jobs during construction.

Since Mills was elected, Maine has restored incentives for rooftop solar and enacted policies promoting renewable power to businesses and consumers. In January, for example, the state doubled the rebate it provides to homeowners who install certain kinds of energy-efficient heat pumps.

A post-pandemic federal stimulus package would greatly enhance job growth during the recovery, the report suggests, while also saving consumers money and helping to meet climate goals. It remains to be seen what shape that might take under the pending Democratic administration of President-elect Joe Biden with majority control of the U.S. Senate still uncertain.

But the report focuses on policies and strategies that are focused in Maine, where Democrats will dominate the Legislature for at least the next two years.

“While the imperative to reduce emissions and slow climate change drives the need to rapidly develop the clean energy sector,” the report says, “the economic challenges in Maine stemming from the COVID-19 pandemic offer an opportunity to support good jobs in this fast-growing sector.”

Tuesday’s clean-energy economy report is a major component of the state’s far-reaching Climate Action Plan, a four-year blueprint aimed at blunting the impacts of climate change while building the foundations of a clean-energy economy.

The climate plan is a product of laws passed in 2019 by the Legislature and championed by Mills to cut carbon emission levels to 45 percent of 1990 levels by 2030, and 80 percent by 2050.

Other mandates increase the amount of renewable electricity Maine utilities must buy from 40 percent today to 80 percent by 2030, with a goal of 100 percent renewable energy by 2050, new incentives for energy-efficient heating, such as heat pumps, and policies to encourage more solar-electric development.

The climate plan has been assembled over the past several months by the Maine Climate Council.

Despite the global pandemic, the council has been plugging away for over a year on a comprehensive approach. Its conclusions have been informed by draft strategies gathered by six expert working groups that met online in public forums. The focus areas were transportation, buildings, infrastructure and housing, energy, community resilience planning, emergency management and public health, coastal and marine, and natural and working lands.

Supplementing the working groups were more than 4,400 public responses to a feedback survey. They came from business and conservation advocates, municipal leaders, lawmakers and residents with opinions or suggestions. Residents from nearly three-quarters of Maine’s communities submitted comments, the council reported.

Hannah Pingree, director of the Governor’s Office of Policy Innovation and the Future and co-chair of the Maine Climate Council, said the report helps bring the economic impact of fighting climate change into perspective for the council, as it prepares to deliver its own plan for action.

“The impacts of climate change on Maine are already being felt, and the threat to our state is severe unless bold steps are taken,” Pingree said. “These bold actions also come with the opportunity to grow good-paying jobs in clean energy and innovative natural resources industries, which is a win-win opportunity for Maine to both reduce greenhouse emissions and grow our economy.”

As a starting point, the climate plan will highlight the complexity of reducing climate-warming emissions.

Significantly, 54 percent of Maine’s greenhouse gas emissions come chiefly from cars and trucks, and 19 percent come from homes. Electricity generation is responsible for only 7 percent, behind industrial and commercial emissions. That means the biggest improvements will need to come from how Mainers move around and heat and cool their homes – requiring broader, more personal actions, for instance, than just mandating that utilities buy more power from renewable power plants.

For its part, the clean-energy report zeroed in on strategies in four specific categories to create the jobs needed for the task:

• Policy and program development, such as continuing to create and carry out clean-energy policies focused on jobs.

• Workforce development and recruitment, such as supporting science, technology, engineering, arts and math career education, as well as training programs. For instance: The Maine Energy Marketers Association offers training and certification programs for jobs in heating and cooling that are supported by 300 companies. One popular program teaches students to install high-efficiency electric heat pumps.

• Clean-tech innovation, such as encouraging public and private investment to go toward products and services that advance climate goals, as well as pursuing the state’s goal of 99 percent high-speed internet access by 2030.

• Equity and just transition, such as considering cost to low- and moderate-income households, as well as a fair distribution of benefits across all communities.

The report also included a survey of more than 100 clean-energy businesses and organizations.

More than 80 percent of respondents indicated that the state’s clean-energy transition would lead to positive workforce and economic impacts for their companies. Seventy-one percent said they would be able to meet their own hiring needs, although many expected challenges, such as finding enough instate workers with the necessary skills.

The director of a trade group made up of clean-tech companies said the report stressed to him the need to do three things at once: keep growing Maine’s clean-tech economy, recruit new engineers and electricians, and provide support for their training.

“This is where the economy is headed,” said Marty Grohman, executive director of the Environmental & Energy Technology Council of Maine. “I also think there’s a strong opportunity to increase the diversity of our workforce by focusing on paths to clean-tech employment for New Mainers, many of whom have suitable credentials granted in other jurisdictions, in this sector.”

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