Thursday was a record-breaking scorcher in much of the Northeast, and ozone danger warnings were issued for southern Maine.
Oil prices shot up Wednesday as oil-producing countries failed to agree on increasing production targets.
Doctors warned, meanwhile, that asthma rates in the U.S. are soaring.
All this as Maine’s governor and Legislature move toward repealing renewable energy standards that the Maine Public Utilities Commission says are working admirably and costing Maine ratepayers almost nothing.
Something’s wrong with this picture, and it’s LD 1570, which would essentially stop Maine’s slow but steady progress toward renewable energy.
What’s more, it would threaten millions of dollars in new energy development in Maine and potentially kill hundreds of new jobs.
In 2007, the Legislature adopted an Act to Stimulate Demand for Renewable Energy. Beginning in 2008, it mandated that Maine utilities purchase 1 percent more renewable energy each year until the state reaches 10 percent in 2017.
If that seems ambitious, consider this: Germany, an industrial powerhouse, already gets 17 percent of its power from renewables, largely biomass and wind.
It now plans to replace its dependence on nuclear power with renewables, which will greatly accelerate its embrace of clean energy.
The European Union, meanwhile, will get 21 percent of its electricity from renewables by 2020, just after Maine is scheduled to hit half that mark.
Gov. Paul LePage argues that Maine has some of the highest energy costs in the U.S. and that costs here are “exploding.”
He’s partly right on the first count and dead wrong on the second.
Maine now has the lowest electric rates in New England. The region has higher rates than much of the nation because we have no access to cheap coal.
And Maine’s electric rates have increased modestly over the past decade, but at a slower rate than other New England states.
What’s more, most of the increases ratepayers have seen have been in transmission, not generation. As a large, rural state with no major urban areas, moving electricity to where it is needed is more expensive than in smaller, more tightly packed states.
As the PUC has found, the Renewable Energy Act has had only a little impact on higher consumer rates.
A Press Herald analysis, reviewed by the Maine PUC for accuracy, found the 2007 renewable energy requirement adds only $4.80 a year to the average residential electric bill.
That’s only 40 cents per month, for heaven’s sake!
Some in the Legislature, perhaps, are seeing LD 1570 as a way to stop the spread of wind power in the state.
It would do that, but the biggest impact will be on biomass producers. Nearly 80 percent of the benefit of the act has gone to biomass operators and paper companies that operate biomass plants.
Less than 20 percent has benefitted wind-power producers.
On another front, the Legislature is trying to strip energy efficiency standards from the state’s new building code.
As many policymakers have pointed out, Maine is the most dependent state in the U.S. on petroleum, largely for home heating and transportation.
We need more efficient cars and homes, and we need renewable energy now more than ever.
The Legislature should reject LD 1570, and stick with our new energy-efficient building code.
The opinions expressed in this column reflect the views of the ownership and editorial board.