On Feb. 14, Gov. Mills gave the annual State of the Budget address. Among the many positive items in this address, the governor boldly stated: “I am announcing tonight that I am directing my Energy Office to draft legislation requiring that 100 percent of our electricity come from clean energy by 2040.” This advances the current clock on such an achievement by 10 years – no small change. It is a change that we, Sierra Club Maine, enthusiastically embrace.

In her Feb. 14 State of the Budget address, Gov. Mills announced: “I am directing my Energy Office to draft legislation requiring that 100 percent of our electricity come from clean energy by 2040” – advancing the current clock on the goal by 10 years. Gregory Rec/Staff Photographer, File

The governor succinctly gave three reasons to do this. Firstly, “…we will reduce costs for Maine people.” One hardly needs to look beyond this winter’s explosive increases in electricity rates to support that reason. Bills have doubled or more for many residential and business customers compared to as little as two years ago. As USA Today reports, this is largely because of increases in natural gas prices. Related increases in oil, propane and kerosene prices for heating have been as burdensome as increases in electricity prices. As the Maine electricity grid becomes “cleaner,” with energy from renewable sources such as wind and solar, the volatility of fossil-fuel pricing will begin to disappear while relentless upward steps in energy costs for households and businesses will be a thing of the past by 2040 under the governor’s initiative.

Secondly, the governor stated: “…create new jobs and career opportunities that strengthen our economy.” Today, the jobs in Maine’s energy economy are largely in the distribution side of energy rather than its production. The current energy jobs will not only be replaced in the clean energy economy, but also multiplied by the needs of new infrastructure. Replacement of heating systems, build-out of electric-vehicle charging stations, appropriate weatherization, manufacturing and assembly of solar and wind generation equipment, and upgrades to our electrical grid will all create new, well-paying jobs for Maine people. A Maine Governor’s Energy Office report suggests that Maine could see tens of thousands of new jobs to build, install and maintain wind turbines for the Gulf of Maine wind farms.

Thirdly, the governor stated: “… protect us from the ravages of climate change.” While we recognize that Maine’s contribution to overall global emissions of greenhouse gases is relatively small, a just energy transition requires all global citizens to do their part. Already, Maine is seeing a shift in seasons that drives ecological regions northward, is seeing rising sea levels at the coast that bring damaging waves to shoreline infrastructure and is experiencing extreme weather events, such as the record-breaking deep freeze on nearby Mount Washington on Feb. 3. These occurrences will be often costly for Mainers and will become more so with time unless we reduce fossil-fuel emissions.

Although the concept of “clean” energy in the governor’s presentation includes the approximately 50% of Maine’s electricity that comes from biomass burning and from hydropower, we wish to see Maine move away from heavy dependence on these sources by 2040. Because managed forests are now often being associated with net positive greenhouse-gas emissions, we don’t believe the 2040 goal should be met by increased biomass burning. Hydropower has come under more scrutiny recently because of the emissions of carbon dioxide and methane from the impounded areas behind hydroelectric dams. Lastly, we mention nuclear power, of which Maine has zero now. Until the problem of how to deal with the extremely toxic waste produced in nuclear fission is solved, we cannot allow new nuclear power generation in Maine.

We applaud the bold vision of Gov. Mills on electrical energy in her State of the Budget address for 2023. Freeing our state from the use of coal, oil and natural gas, none of which are produced in this state, is wise in so many ways. Let’s stop importing energy at large cost and start using the vast, clean and free resources of wind and solar to provide our electricity while creating good jobs for Maine’s workforce.

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