Maine is a uniquely rural state; the vast majority of us burn heating oil and wood to make it through the winter.

Just 8% of Mainers rely on natural gas, a much smaller percentage than in the Northeast. But over the past 20 years, gas utilities have steadily increased their share of customers in our cities and towns, adding 100 miles of pipe between 2019 and 2022 alone. To protect its profits, Maine’s gas industry has worked hard to keep us hooked on its product, to the detriment of our health, our pocketbooks and our climate. It’s time for our representatives in Augusta to stop taking the bait.

This legislative session, lobbyists pushed to water down a bill that would have slowed the expansion of the dirty and outdated gas system. In a bill that originally directed the Mills administration to study the potential of green, district-scale geothermal heating and cooling for buildings among other provisions, fossil fuel interests added language that requires the government to study “biogas” or “renewable natural gas,” junk energy sources more expensive than their cleaner alternatives and more likely to ensure the gas industry’s continued profits.

No matter how you look at them, dirty alternative fuels like biogas and RNG (methane sourced from a landfill or dairy farm rather than fracking) quickly prove far too expensive and ineffective to take seriously.

Not only does gas industry research show that RNG only has the potential to meet 13% of the existing demand for gas, Summit Utilities spent about $20 million of gas customer money on an anaerobic digester that is only capable of providing energy to a few thousand residences. Additionally, burning RNG carries the same substantial health risks as burning fracked gas — they both fill indoor air with pollutants like nitrogen dioxide and carcinogens like benzene. To boot, research shows us that replacing fracked gas with a blend of RNG and hydrogen only reduces the greenhouse gas emissions that cause climate change by 6%, when Maine needs to hit net-zero emissions just two decades from now.

Compare these pitfalls to the promise of district-scale geothermal (or thermal energy networks), the most efficient systems available to provide climate-friendly and wallet-friendly heating and cooling to entire neighborhoods that today rely on gas. Homes and buildings connected to these networks can exchange heat via ground source heat pumps that move energy through a shared underground network of water-filled pipes. Because the cost of thermal energy infrastructure projects are spread out across entire communities rather than house-by-house, Maine can use this technology to equitably deliver clean heating and cooling to households that otherwise wouldn’t be able to afford the upfront cost of installation.


While typical air source heat pumps are incredibly efficient, networked ground source heat pumps put this efficiency into super drive, resulting in even more savings. In the suburbs of Boston, where the first utility-run networked geothermal pilot is set to be unveiled this spring, residents are expected to save up to 20% on their energy bills — while at the same time cutting climate-warming emissions by 60%.

According to a study from the U.S. Department of Energy, large-scale deployment of ground source heat pumps can reduce the costs of transitioning to a carbon-pollution-free electric grid by helping avoid the need for tens of thousands of miles of new transmission lines. With thermal energy networks, Maine can build smarter, not harder, when it comes to our electric grid.

As we grapple with how to prepare for a clean-energy future, labor leaders have rightly pushed for policies that provide good opportunities to existing workers. We couldn’t agree more. That’s why it’s so exciting to see gas utilities and their labor workforces embrace thermal energy networks everywhere from New York to Washington state and Maryland. Because these networks rely on many of the same engineering principles as the gas system, gas utility workers can use existing skills to transition entire communities toward clean energy.

We’re certain that when they compare apples to apples, Maine’s state leaders will see clearly which pathway benefits the fossil fuel industry and which pathway benefits people. L.D. 2077 was passed in the House and Senate this month, and now sits on the special studies table awaiting final passage and the governor’s signature. Now, Maine can start pulling back the curtain on gas industry misinformation and instead start down the path toward clean heating and cooling for entire communities, once and for all.

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