Gov. Janet Mills talks with John Luft, branch manager of the ReVision Energy facility in Montville, on Thursday. Mills visited the solar energy system installer on Earth Day to announce a $500,000 competitive grant program for clean-energy startup businesses. Kevin Miller/Staff Writer

MONTVILLE — The state will create a $500,000 competitive grant program that will help to fund at least two clean energy startup companies in Maine, Gov. Janet Mills announced Thursday.

The Maine Clean Energy Innovation Challenge program was unveiled on the 51st observance of Earth Day and touted as part of the administration’s push to create “green jobs” in the state. The program will be administered by the Maine Technology Institute, a quasi-governmental economic development agency, and the Governor’s Energy Office.

“I have committed to creating 30,000 clean-energy jobs in Maine by 2030,” Mills said in reference to one of her administration’s climate-related goals. “With the Maine Clean Energy Innovation Challenge announced today, clean energy entrepreneurs will have the backing they need to develop their companies, to create jobs and to fight climate change at the same time.”

Details of the grant program were not provided on Thursday, and the Maine Technology Institute’s website said application materials and the “request for proposals” language will be posted soon.

But Brian Whitney, president of the Maine Technology Institute, said he anticipates awarding two grants of $250,000 each to projects that “seek innovative, clean-energy solutions with growth potential that will help Maine meet its climate change goals.” Whitney added that the pot of money or number of projects could grow, depending on the quality of the applications.

Mills unveiled the new program on the same day that President Biden announced he was committing the United States to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 52 percent over 2005 levels by the end of this decade. Biden also proposed an “international climate finance plan” that would double the amount of money distributed by the U.S. to developing countries to help them achieve climate-related goals.

Biden has reversed course from his predecessor, Donald Trump, on climate issues, rejoining the international effort to address the crisis and pledging to help lead that effort. Two years ago, Maine also saw a wholesale policy reversal when Mills, a Democrat, made renewable energy and addressing the climate crisis top priorities of state government, in sharp contrast to Republican Gov. Paul LePage.

Under the Mills administration, Maine has set a goal of reducing emissions of carbon dioxide – a greenhouse gas produced by the combustion of fossil fuels – to 45 percent of 1990 levels by 2030. And in a 2019 address to the United Nations, Mills pledged that Maine would become carbon-neutral by 2045.

Leanna Bonds, center, development manager at The Ecology School in Saco, talks to Kyra Yu, right while giving a tour of the school’s 712 solar panels on Thursday. The school celebrated Earth Day by holding a celebration to highlight their solar power generation, a key element in their Living Building Challege, the goal of which is to be completely carbon neutral. Gregory Rec/Staff Photographer

Hannah Pingree, who leads the Governor’s Office of Policy Innovation and the Future, said despite the different benchmark years, Maine’s goal is consistent with the 52 percent reduction by 2030 announced by Biden. Pingree acknowledged that the target is “aggressive” and will depend heavily on Maine’s being able to reduce emissions from the transportation sector, but added that “heavy lifting from the federal government will certainly help.”

“We basically have the same emission reduction as Biden just announced, we just use different baseline years,” Pingree said.

Thursday’s event was held at the Montville facility of ReVision Energy, a company that began in the nearby Waldo County town of Liberty in 2003 with just two people. The company is now one of the largest solar installers in northern New England, employing 290 workers in three states, including 178 in Maine.

“We have good-paying careers that are dynamic, engaging and provide opportunities for growth that many of us … that were in the industry a decade ago could never have imagined,” said Vaughan Woodruff, director of the ReVision Energy training center, which offers an apprenticeship program for new employees.

ReVision Energy was also the contractor that installed solar panels on Maine’s governor’s mansion, the Blaine House, in 2019.

Mills pointed out that Maine spends less of its state budget on research and development than all but five other states. Earlier this year, she announced plans to work with the Legislature to put forward a bond package that would use state borrowing to invest in clean energy and other “green” jobs as part of an effort to build back the state’s pandemic-stricken economy with a longer-term focus.

Mills said her administration was “still talking about bonds” but also hopes to tap some of Maine’s share of federal stimulus dollars for clean energy initiatives. Many of the state’s short- and long-term goals are outlined in a Climate Action Plan unveiled last year by the Maine Climate Council proposed by Mills and subsequently authorized by the Legislature.

“Forty-nine years from now, when our children and grandchildren gather to celebrate the 100th anniversary of Earth Day, let them say we did not wait and took every step to protect this precious planet, to protect this precious place we call Maine for them and for future generations,” Mills said.


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