“There are no solutions. There are only trade-offs.” ― Thomas Sowell, “A Conflict of Visions: Ideological Origins of Political Struggles.”

Many people who claim that man-made climate change is an existential threat that must be dealt with immediately want only results with no costs – it is not possible. As a second choice, they want others to bear the externalities of their choices. Just as power plants that spew CO2 are a cost not borne by the direct creator, importing power from any other jurisdiction logically pushes any undesirable factor onto someone else. Maine imports about 30% of its power from outside the state. So that means we love green power as long as some other place cuts their trees, or dams their rivers, or splits their atoms. Whether it is hilltop wind in western Maine, or offshore wind development, there are always environmentalists lined up to oppose them – kind of weird if CO2 is going to make the planet uninhabitable within our lifetime.

Offshore Wind-Gulf of Mexico

If Maine is going to embrace offshore wind power as it moves away from fossil fuels, then Mainers will have to become accustomed to looking at turbines like these, off Block Island, R.I., writes Zak Harding. Michael Dwyer/Associated Press, File

Some Maine legislators are pushing for 82% of all new vehicles purchased in the state by 2032 to be electric vehicles, and the governor has signed on to install another 100,000 heat pumps in the state over the next few years. Has anyone thought of where this new electricity will come from? Has the grid been upgraded to handle the increasing load?

We have all seen the battle over the Central Maine Power corridor. Assuming the clear cutting of the 53 miles is a quarter-mile wide, that is 13.25 square miles of trees. Maine forest covers more than 27,000 square miles. But apparently that is too large of a local cost to bring in clean Canadian hydropower to the New England grid we share with 14 million people.

The next externality we want others to bear are the materials needed to drive the new green tech – literally. One of the largest lithium deposits in the country – in fact, the world – is here in Maine. But Maine has some of the country’s most restrictive mining laws, so unless the Legislature makes some changes that lithium will never see the inside of a battery. So, on one hand, the Legislature wants us to buy a new vehicle with about 20 pounds of lithium in it, while on the other it demands that the externality be borne elsewhere. So it is OK to, by extension, to demand child labor somewhere else be used in an unregulated mine to get the minerals in lieu of some strongly regulated but manageable local mining. Maine has about a half million registered vehicles; if half are EVs in the future, 5 million pounds of lithium are going to come from somewhere.

I think Maine should move away from fossil fuels. Their time has run its course. But I also understand we cannot be hypocrites and demand the true cost of our new electrified world be borne by others – a form of externality colonialism. As we electrify, we should also demand that we produce as much energy as we consume within our borders. Maine rivers cannot be too precious to place hydro dams on. Are Canadian ecosystems not valued? We will have to see offshore wind towers as we enjoy our sunrises – Dutch windmills are tourist attractions, after all. We will also need to give up lots of forest and farmland to place solar farms. We may need to give up the illogical aversion to nuclear power. We could close our energy gap by repurposing the former Maine Yankee site and install small modular reactors – without fighting in the courts for years. This could use the existing grid infrastructure capacity of 860 megawatts to avoid cutting down over 10 square miles of trees that would be needed for an equal amount of intermittent solar.

If climate change is a crisis, it is time to put all of our options and resources to bear and understand we must accept the full cost of the power we use.

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