When she addressed the United Nations earlier this week, Governor Janet Mills announced that she signed an executive order stating Maine would be carbon neutral by 2045. To achieve this policy goal, there would need to be a net-zero release of carbon emissions into the atmosphere, meaning Maine would need to balance its emissions with carbon removal processes. While this is certainly a noble goal, it should not be achieved through government intervention and new mandates.
In her executive order, Governor Mills released little information about how the state would become carbon neutral. Instead, she relied solely on the Maine Climate Council, a 39-member panel created this legislative session and dedicated to reducing greenhouse gas emissions and increasing the use of renewable resources. The council is tasked with providing recommendations on how to achieve this goal in their upcoming report (because there’s nothing more productive than a 39-person government panel).
In addition to creating the council, the governor signed several pieces of legislation last session meant to mitigate climate change. LD 1494 requires 80 percent of retail sales electricity to come from renewable resources by 2030 and 100 percent by 2050. In addition, LD 1679, the same bill that established the Maine Climate Council, requires the state to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 2050 equivalent to 80 percent below the 1990 gross greenhouse gas emissions level.
According to the United States Energy Information Administration, Maine ranks 45th for carbon dioxide emissions and releases approximately 0.3 percent of total carbon emissions in the United States. Becoming carbon neutral in Maine would do little to curb climate change, aside from being a symbolic gesture. However, the legislation put forward to ensure Maine is carbon neutral might have more substantial effects.
For instance, consumers might be forced to pay more for electricity if it is mandated to come from renewable resources. A report from the Manhattan Institute found that states that have implemented the renewable portfolio standard (RPS) typically have a higher cost per kilowatt-hour for electricity than states that have not implemented the RPS. Maine already has the eleventh highest average retail price for electricity in the United States and increasing the renewable standard may result in further rate increases.
Further, LD 1494 removed the 100 megawatt cap on solar arrays and installations while leaving it in place for hydroelectric power and other renewable resources. In other words, hydroelectric generators that produce more than 100 megawatts cannot be counted toward the state’s RPS requirements.
The presence of the 100 megawatt cap on hydro shows that Governor Mills and her allies in the legislature aren’t serious about clean energy. Hydroelectric power provides clean, reliable and inexpensive energy to consumers. Barry Hobbins, Maine’s Public Advocate, said LD 1027, a bill proposed this session to remove the 100 megawatt cap on hydro, was “virtually certain to lower electricity costs for Maine ratepayers.” Nonetheless, the 100 megawatt cap on hydroelectric remains in place.
Instead of looking out for Maine ratepayers by allowing more affordable renewable resources to count toward the state’s RPS requirements, lawmakers are more interested in providing special carve-outs and subsidies to specific renewable energy producers. This economic favoritism was also seen in 2009 when the legislature removed the cap for wind facilities while continuing to enforce the cap on other renewables.
If the goal is to truly make Maine a carbon neutral state, the Maine Climate Council should start by removing the 100 megawatt cap on hydroelectric power to keep electricity rates low while increasing the amount of renewable energy sold to ratepayers. A free and fair renewable energy market would help us achieve our carbon neutrality goals. Special favors for the wind and solar lobbies put these goals further out of reach.