Maine Climate Plan Thin on Renewable Energy

Maine adopted a renewable portfolio standard in 1999 that required publicly owned utilities to supply 30 percent of their power generation through renewable energy resources. A high renewable portfolio standard (RPS), which includes hydropower and municipal waste burning, didn’t do much to reduce the greenhouse gas emissions in the state, however.

In 2003, the Maine Department of Environmental Protection (MDEP) was given the task of developing a Climate Action Plan (CAP), and a list of 54 recommendations released by the department could help the state lower its greenhouse gas emissions to 1990 levels by 2010. Maine had the equivalent of 20,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide (K MTCO2E) emissions in 1990, and is projected to have approximately 27,000 K MTCO2E by 2020 if nothing is done to mitigate industry and electricity generation emissions in the state. Maine’s Climate Action Plan was developed with the expertise and input of more than 100 individuals and organizations. Four working groups were formed to address greenhouse gas issues: transportation and land use; buildings, facilities and manufacturing; agriculture and forestry; and energy and solid waste. The MDEP coordinated the effort and authored the final draft. State legislators will now have the opportunity to review the plan and its implementation. “Most of the recommended actions are expected to produce significant co-benefits,” Governor John Baldacci said. “Of particular significance are those that will have a positive impact on human health and those that are expected to promote economic growth and development.” Out of the 54 recommendations, at least six potential projects were based on renewable energy technologies. The Energy and Solid Waste working group proposed a renewable system benefit charge that could either be added onto electricity rates or paid as a lump sum by the utility companies in the state. Funds from the charge would go into a green power purchases plan controlled by the state, and used to fund technology for projects such as wind power, solar power and fuel cells. The same group recommended subsidizing biomass to energy projects with the recently renewed federal production tax credit. There are approximately nine biomass to energy projects in the state, according to the CAP report, three of those plants are not currently operating. Capturing methane gas from landfills and using it to fire generators, or burning it off by “flaring” the gas before it escapes into the atmosphere it could reduce overall emissions in the state. Flaring is already a common practice at a few landfills. Taking some of the power generation load off of utilities through solar applications is an option recommended by the Buildings, Facilities and Manufacturing work group. Home owners and business owners could get a tax incentive if they install a solar thermal water heater, and the group even suggested establishing a revolving loan fund for such installations. Solar photovoltaic installations would also receive the benefit of systems rebates. Both measures would have to be passed by the Maine Legislature. Agriculture and forestry is a solid portion of the Maine economy, and support for increasing the use of biodiesel in vehicles for farming and off-road work would certainly have a positive effect on greenhouse gases in the state. None of the recommended actions will take place over night, as many of them require legislation at either the state or local level. “I fully expect that implementation will take place over the next two years and that we will see several different approaches,” said MDEP Commissioner Dawn Gallagher. “Some of the actions have already begun and we may undertake others through normal program activity. Some measures may require us to develop new rules or the work of several legislative committees to craft the necessary bills. In addition, there are a few issues that need to be more fully examined, and I look forward to full participation on the part of interested folks.” Other recommendations made by the working groups included: adopting California tailpipe emissions standards, encouraging state green power purchases and increasing the forestry stock of fast growing trees.

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