The State Senate voted 19-14 Tuesday to kill a proposal that would have lifted the 100-megawatt cap on electricity generated from hydroelectric dams and other renewable sources.
The House had last week voted 75-67 against the bill, LD 622.
The move will protect an artificial monopoly held over Renewable Energy Credits (RECs) by the wind power and solar power industries while ensuring that Canadian hydroelectric power cannot compete in Maine’s energy market anytime soon.
Maine’s Renewable Portfolio Standards (RPS) law, passed in 1999, created a mechanism that requires a certain percentage of Maine’s electricity originate from sources the state designates as renewable. Under Maine’s current RPS, 80 percent of retail electricity must come from renewable resources by 2030 and 100 percent by 2050.
However, the law doesn’t take an “all of the above” approach to renewable energy.
Instead, lawmakers set rules to determine which sources of renewable energy will qualify as “renewable energy” for the purposes of RPS.
This includes a size limit of 100-megawatts for power generators to be classified as renewable.
In 2019, Maine lawmakers carved out an exemption to the 100-megawatt cap for solar power and wind power, a decision that provided enormous advantages to large corporations that manufacture, install, and manage large wind and solar installations.
The bill to remove the cap for all renewable power sources was introduced by Rep. Donald Ardell (R-Monticello).
“It’s so frustrating for me to see the Maine Legislature pick winners and losers in our energy choices, and it seems like they picked the absolute worst winners,” said Ardell.
Ardell noted that six Democrats joined Republicans to vote in favor of the proposal, but it wasn’t enough to save his bill. In the Senate, one Democrat crossed the aisle.
The Mills Administration opposed the bill during its public hearing.
Caroline Colan, a legislative liaison from the Governor’s Energy Office, said the governor opposed the bill because allowing cheap renewable energy to come into Maine from out-of-state would lower the value of “renewable energy certificates” and harm biomass facilities already operating in Maine.
RECs are tradable instruments that represent one megawatt-hour of power generated from prescribed renewable sources.
RECs are sold by renewable energy companies to other firms so those companies can comply with RPS or tout their green bonafides. Non-renewable energy companies will buy RECs in order to comply with energy composition laws, while trendy firms that want to be able to claim they’re “carbon neutral” or supportive of green energy. That demand creates a market for RECs which provides further financial incentive for solar and wind projects that might not be profitable without the government intervention.
“With only one hydroelectric facility greater than 100 MW located in Maine, the intention of this legislation is understood to enable the entry of existing large generators located outside the state to Maine’s RPS,” Colan said.
“Were large hydroelectric resources allowed to enter the market as qualifying Class I and Class ll resources, renewable energy certificate (REC) values would likely decline significantly and therefore substantially reduce the value that qualifying projects rely on to operate. In Maine that would likely mean having a significant negative impact on the state’s existing biomass facilities,” she said.
In 2022, just 12 percent of Maine’s total electricity consumption came from renewable resources, excluding nuclear and hydro.
According to ISO New England, the company that manages Maine’s electricity grid, 52 percent of Maine’s 2022 electricity came from natural gas, 26 percent came from nuclear power, 7 percent came from hydroelectric.
Within the 12 percent ISO New England defines as renewable, 4 percent was wind power, 3 percent was refuse, 2 percent came from wood, 3 percent came from solar, 0.41 percent was landfill gas, and 0.04 percent was methane.
Maine currently has 12 plants generating power from biomass or municipal waste. The most recent facilities opened in 2016, 2009, 2008, and 1992.
The 100-megawatt cap has long been a source of debate and disagreement between lawmakers and interest groups in Augusta.
Originally proposed as a way to stimulate demand for renewable energy, the cap has effectively given large wind turbine and solar panel companies a monopoly over renewable power generation at the expense of hydroelectric power operations.
Maine’s current renewable energy plan heavily favors wind and solar even despite the drawbacks associated with each.
The solar power industry has faced complaints in recent years that the supply chain for producing most panels includes forced labor in western China.
The recent Department of Transportation project that put thousands of panels up in Augusta, for example, relied on a sub-contractor that has been accused by the Biden administration of benefiting from forced labor in its supply chain.
The Mills administration has refused to comment on why the state selected a company with such a dubious track record to build solar panels for the public project.
The wind power industry, particularly the off-shore wind power industry, has also faced criticism that the projects are not as environmentally friendly or economically beneficial as proponents say.
An investigation by Bloomberg News last year found that the Biden Administration had ignored federal scientists’ private warnings that offshore wind power development on the east coast may harm endangered whale species.
The costs of building the sites coupled with the limited energy generation makes offshore wind some of the most expensive electricity on the market. Those costs are absorbed by all businesses and residents who buy electricity.
Both solar and wind power share another similar problem: intermittency.
That is, neither solar nor wind can provide electricity in a constant, predictable manner.
This has consequences for the entire power grid, which must adjust to accommodate sudden increases or decreases in power coming from solar and wind. Those accommodations come with increased on-off costs which are also passed along to the consumer.
To illustrate this, consider the following chart from ISO New England.
Through Wednesday and Thursday last week, while lawmakers were voting against Ardell’s bill, power generated by solar increased as the sun came up and fell as the sun went down, much as you would expect, though that can change according to weather. The power available from wind changes throughout the day in a more unpredictable fashion.
Compared to wind and solar, the other renewable categories provide far more stable and predictable energy.
Wind and solar currently account for a very small share of Maine’s power grid, but other power sources — primarily natural gas — must change reactively to accommodate unpredictable power generation. Here’s a chart over the same period in time that includes power generated from fossil fuels and nuclear power.
Advocates for wind and solar claim that these renewable sources will be able to replace power generated through fossil fuels, but they have yet to come up with an answer for how Mainers will get electricity at night or when the wind isn’t blowing.
In those instances, some controllable, predictable method for generating electricity will still be necessary.
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