Back on Valentine’s Day, Maine Governor Janet Mills gave her biennial State of the Budget Address. In it, she outlined her plans to accelerate her already ambitious goals to eliminate the use of fossil fuels in Maine by 2040, rather than her previous goal of 2050. Her speech and previous statements and actions on climate issues show a stunning lack of understanding of the issues that can only have resulted from a lack of even the most basic research.
For example, Mills declared that “The electricity from our grid, which we share with the rest of New England, is overly reliant on natural gas – and the price of natural gas has shot through the roof, in large part as a result of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.”
At the very moment that Mills uttered these words, the price of natural gas was sitting at one-third of the price it cost on Christmas Day, having fallen by 66% in less than two months. The drop did not stop there. Last Thursday’s edition of the Wall Street Journal—nine days following her address—pointed out that natural gas prices have reached historic lows. “In early trading, (it) futures dipped below $2, a threshold that has rarely been breached over the past 20 years.”
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“By accelerating our pace toward 100 percent clean energy,” Mills argued, it will “protect us from the ravages of climate change.” This is simply not true. If Maine eliminated 100% of its total CO2 emissions, it would have virtually no measurable impact on the climate. According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA), Maine’s energy related CO2 emissions total roughly 13.5 million metric tons (mmt) annually. Only four U.S. states have a smaller annual CO2 footprint. Maine’s 17.5 million acres of forested land then scrub or sequester 75% of that carbon, leaving net emissions totaling just 3.4 mmt. The annual emissions of the U.S. as a whole are 1,350 times that amount, and that U.S. total is about one third that of China’s annual emissions.
Last April, China and India, already the number one and number three CO2 polluters in the world, announced they will be increasing their production of coal by a combined 700 tons annually. Every ton of coal burned emits 4,172 pounds of CO2. Just this increase in coal from these two countries will increase worldwide annual CO2 emissions by 1,460 mmt which amounts to 417 times Maine’s total net annual emissions. Given these numbers, even if every Mainer gave up electricity, heat for their homes, and other CO2 producing energy, it would have no measurably positive effect on the climate.
On January 6 of this year, Maine Public Utilities Commission Chair Phil Bartlett, whose previous job was head of the Manie Democratic Party, announced that his commission had set Central Maine Power’s “standard offer” for residential electricity at a rate 49% higher than its already high current rate. Bartlett explained to WCSH6 that the latest jump in electricity rates in New England are largely driven by the price of natural gas which right now is more expensive, “In large part because of the war in Ukraine and the effect that that has had on supply disruptions into Europe.” That same day, however, CNN reported that natural gas prices in Europe, those closest and most effected by the war in Ukraine, had dropped by 90% since August. They fell by 48% during December alone.
Three weeks later, Legislative Democrats held a press conference to promote a bill by Sen. Mark Lawrence (D-York) that would accelerate the development of wind turbines off the Maine coast.
“[The cost of] fossil fuels are only going to increase in the future,” argued Lawrence, raising the question as to why, with this knowledge in hand, he has not invested his life savings into energy production stocks based on the certainty with which he can see the future.
Speaking from the same script that Mills and Bartlett used, Lawrence declared that “The energy price hikes in electricity in Maine this past year are overwhelmingly due to our reliance on fossil fuels, particularly gas.” If this is true, then whey did the Maine PUC authorize a 49% hike in electric rates just as the price of natural gas was collapsing to the lowest levels in two decades?
Why are the Governor of our state, the Chair of the PUC, and a former President of the Maine State Senate all making claims that simply do not stand the scrutiny of verifiable facts? Two significant reasons come to mind. First, they know it is very unlikely that anyone in the Maine media will take the time to fact check their claims, and even if they did, those who most question Mills’ climate agenda live in rural areas of the state that are of little political concern to Democrats.
During the 2022 election for Governor, in towns with 1,500 or fewer votes cast, conservative Republican Paul LePage won by nearly 10%. But in municipalities in which more than 1,500 votes were cast, his more liberal opponent, incumbent governor Janet Mills won by 18%. People in rural areas tend to be lower on the income scale and many of those have chosen to live a greater distance from more heavily populated areas such as Portland and Bangor because housing is more affordable. This, however, means long daily commutes to more populated areas where jobs are more plentiful.
As a result, anything that increases the cost of driving a car hits poorer people in rural areas much harder. Since their voting habits don’t favor the ideas of urban liberals, and there are not enough of them to seriously threaten a candidate like Mills at the polls, they not only get short shrift when it comes to state government policies, they often end up bearing a higher burden for ideas that increase costs of fuel, heating oil, and electricity.
Back to Sen. Lawrence’s wind power idea, it calls for private companies to pay for the project, but since their only source of revenue to recoup this investment would be electricity ratepayers, the costs of this venture would be borne by average Mainers who have already seen their rates skyrocket in the last two years. If his plan comes to fruition, ratepayers will add corporate profits to the list of things that they pay for in their monthly electric bill.
At the press event, Maine Audubon’s Sarah Haggerty pointed out that “If Maine doesn’t take the initiative to help steer offshore wind development off our coast, someone else will.” This argument reflects the complete disconnect that Maine’s climate defenders have on this issue. If someone else wants to take this project on, then good! Let them, and let their ratepayers finance it, not ours.
Massachusetts law obligates the state to purchase 51.1% of its electricity from renewable sources, a mandate that resulted in the much-discussed New England Clean Energy Connect corridor to bring hydro power from Quebec through Maine. Massachusetts’ annual net emissions total 47 mmt—fourteen times that of the Pine Tree State. If that state wants to spearhead such a project and lock in more renewable sources of energy, then why not let them? Since Maine purchases its electricity from ISO New England, the same pool that includes Massachusetts, we could reap the climate-related benefits of wind power while letting the Bay State absorb the financial risks.
Well-known geopolitical strategist Peter Zeihan is a global energy, demographic, and security expert and a best-selling author who gives more than 170 lectures per year to audiences at universities, policymaking groups, even the CIA. A supporter of green energy, he believes that climate change is real and mostly the result of human activity. He also believes that in order to electrify transport by 2030 the electrical grid needs to be doubled, a massive investment whose cost would be borne by ratepayers. Zeihan, however, has no use for electric vehicles, calling them “carbon bombs” because the processing of the minerals needed for each of these vehicles is done in China in facilities that use soft coal as an energy source. “They are,” he says “among the most energy consumptive projects that humans have ever engaged in.”
A lithium-based vehicle battery requires a huge amount of energy to create, and the minerals that are required for each one simply do not now exist in enough quantity to meet projected goals. To convert our transportation system to EVs will require three times as much copper and zinc than we are using now, four times as much chromium, aluminum, and molybdenum, eighteen times as much graphite, and ten times the amount of nickel and lithium. Zeihan points out that “never in human history have we ever doubled our production of any industrial material in a decade. To meet our EV goals, we need to do so for fourteen materials.”
Lithium is particularly relevant to Maine since one of the world’s richest known deposits is in Newry, Maine, where it can be harvested from a crystal known as spodumene. About a year ago, President Biden announced plans to use the Defense Production Act to fund domestic mining of lithium because of its importance to national security. According to the Maine DEP, “In many ways, extraction of spodumene is comparable to extraction of limestone or granite. For example, the environmental risks associated with this type of activity are generally comparable.” Limestone and granite quarries, of course, have existed all over Maine for centuries.
Despite the low environmental threat, the financial support of the U.S. government, and the economic potential for a $1.5 billion deposit of a mineral in high demand worldwide, the Mills’ administration, which touts its clean energy plan as “Lead by Example,” has said it will not allow mining at the site.
Solar supporters will tell you that these panels pay off their “carbon debt” in the first few years of use, meaning the CO2 emissions they save versus electricity from fossil fuels will reduce emission overall. However, the CO2 emissions related to mining and processing necessary minerals and incorporating them into solar arrays are typically left out of the calculation. But Zeihan says that we “are generating more carbon from the creation of the panels and transmission systems than you will ever pay down from the electricity that you generate. So, you’re actually contributing to the problem rather than solving it,” since each panel burns more CO2 in its production than it saves over its lifetime of use.
It takes as many as fourteen different minerals to create a solar panel, but the most prevalent, known as “The Big Five,” are aluminum, copper, silicon, silver, and zinc. Take copper as an example. Next to South Africa, the largest producer of nickel and copper is currently engaged in a war that has impacted most of its industrial production. The continued flow of many “clean energy” related materials are now in doubt. According to Zeihan.” Nearly one-fifth of global platinum group metals (PGMs) are coming out of (the closed Russian city of) Norilsk, a Soviet-built Arctic penal colony whose workers toil a mile underground. So many things have gone so horribly wrong at Norilsk in recent years,” says Zeihan, “that the entire place is a cross between a Superfund site and a frigid Tibetan hell.”
In 2021, NBC News described it as “One of the most polluted places on Earth,” that includes “5.9 million acres of dead and dying boreal forest downwind from the Norilsk Nickel compound—a scar larger than New Jersey, slashed into the largest forested region on Earth.” The operation there is known as Norlisk Nickel (NorNickel) whose largest shareholder is close Putin ally Vladimir Potanin, the second richest man in Russia and currently the target of U.S. sanctions related to the Russian invasion of Ukraine.
If you can ignore the environmental disaster and human rights tragedies that acquiring these metals create, there is still the question of carbon footprint. Another of the largest sources of copper is mined in Chile, a nation that is almost exactly opposite China on the globe, being 12,000 miles away in any direction. The CO2 cost of copper should include the fossil fuel energy used to transport the mined ore halfway around the Earth and then the coal powered energy consumed in China during both the processing and panel production stages. To know the entire CO2 cost of copper for certain, one would need to know the method and fuel used to transport the ore to the coast, then the size, speed, and time underway for ships moving it to China, a data set that simply does not exist.
With this in mind, Zeihan has addressed the idea of placing solar panels in the northeastern U.S. citing Connecticut as an example. “That’s stupid! Because there is not enough sun to generate enough electricity to pay down the carbon debt that it took to build the stuff in the first place.” Maine, of course, is even further from the equator than Connecticut so that solar panels there are 4% less effective or 4% more “stupid.” In southern and less humid Phoenix, solar panels are 24% more effective than in Maine. When a solar panel provider provides the carbon footprint of their product, ask them what location in the U.S. that figure is based on.
For batteries, one of the world’s largest and most problematic producers of lithium is at Salar De Uyuni, in Bolivia, which shares a common border with Chile. This operation also lacks data on the CO2 cost of transporting its product to processing facilities. For both batteries and solar panels, then, we have no idea of their true carbon footprint, except that it is much higher than commonly believed. When a solar panel provider says that their product has a carbon footprint of X, don’t believe them.
The Mills administration continues to justify its rush to solve our nearly non-existent CO2 problem by misleading Maine people on a host of facts. It seems likely, given the pattern of this administration on any number of policy decisions, that this misinformation stems from a lack of research and the absence of the intellectual curiosity needed to want to understand the impact of their actions.
From pretending that Maine is somehow a significant producer of CO2 emissions—it is not—to buying solar panels from a supplier that has used Chinese slave labor in its production, the leadership example that Maine is setting is hopelessly oblivious to the human rights and environmental implications of its decisions. On behalf of Mainers, our state government is contributing to great wrongs in the world in an effort to convince itself that we are better than those who have done less to address climate change. At the same time, it refuses to “Lead by Example” by responsibly mining plentiful and needed minerals right here in our state or raising the alarm about the horrors of mining abuses from Siberia to the Congo while instead making policy that puts greater pressure on these often horrific producers to increase their yields and their attendant abuses.