Inconsistent energy policies spell trouble

Nobody has ever accused Paul LePage of being a deep thinker. But Maine’s freshman governor is usually at least consistent on his major themes. He believes government spends too much, at all levels, for instance, and that welfare benefits create long-term dependence in many families.

You may not agree with his stance, but if you accept his premise, the rest follows clearly. Yet the governor is radically inconsistent about energy policy, a vital topic on which epochal decisions are about to be made.

One of LePage’s predecessors, Angus King, has been eloquent about Maine’s dangerous dependence on petroleum. In a state with some of the nation’s most abundant sources of renewable energy – wood fiber, wind, tides and rivers – we remain hooked on a fuel source of which not one drop is produced in Maine.

Our transportation system is fueled by gasoline and diesel, and public transportation hardly exists outside a handful of cities. Our homes are more dependent on No. 2 heating oil than in any other state. It makes no sense.

So LePage has been speaking out. He wants to get rid of the renewable energy portfolio requirement for electricity production, and also steer state energy policy to embrace currently cheap supplies of natural gas.

This does not add up. LePage says increasing renewable requirements, as now mandated by state law, is unreasonable because, a decade hence, we would get twice as much of our electricity from renewables as, say, Massachusetts.

What the governor ignores is that we have far more renewable energy right now than any other New England state. Just check your utility bill. Central Maine Power customers get five times as much hydropower in their mix as the New England average. Electricity suppliers can easily beat the targets.

And words have consequences. The LePage administration officially supports Maine's burgeoning wind industry, but the governor keeps carping about unspecified “damage” to mountains. LePage’s objections had a tangible result Wednesday, in the proposed denial of the Bowers Mountain wind farm, a project LURC almost certainly would have approved a year earlier.

As for boosting natural gas consumption, this is not a significant change in policy. It mainly reflects market opportunities. Even as petroleum prices soared to well over $100 a barrel, just before the financial implosion of September 2008, natural gas prices were beginning a long, slow decline.

In March 2007, oil futures briefly dipped to $49, before soaring over the next 18 months. Natural gas futures were about $7 per MMbtu then and are now at $3.50. No other energy source has shown such a precipitous drop.

The reasons, as usual, are complex, but one stands out: the prospect of enormous amounts of gas extracted from the Alberta tar sands, glutting pipelines throughout North America. The industry believes the tar sands, and the necessary pipelines across the Midwestern U.S., are a sure thing, but one wonders.

Developing the Alberta deposits will have enormous environmental consequences, and mining them will release more greenhouse gases than conventional oil and gas drilling. Considering the potentially catastrophic effects of fossil fuel burning, does it really make sense to substitute dependence on one irreplaceable fossil fuel with another fossil fuel, even one marginally less polluting?

The federal government still has major decisions to make about the pipeline. Though Canada says it will mine the tar sands with or without U.S. participation, it’s obvious we’re the customer it covets.

LePage thinks renewable energy is driving up the electricity prices, but he’s wrong. Every wind project now coming online has to match the market-clearing price, the least costly source – natural gas. In fact, the reason financing of wind projects has slowed is precisely because gas prices have sunk so far.

The governor’s position on energy is basically a set of prejudices rather than a plan. He’s correct that natural gas has a near-term role simply because we have to get power from somewhere, and natural gas is the cheapest – now far less costly than oil. Environmental groups sometimes don’t see that reality.

But LePage is deeply mistaken if he believes that renewable energy harms Maine’s economy. It’s practically our sole source of industrial growth, plus the high-paying jobs that come with it.

Fortunately, the Legislature seems to understand this far better than the governor. LePage’s campaign against the renewable standard fell flat in the last session, and will likely do so again in 2012. He’d be better off focusing on an issue where he’s more attuned to public opinion -- and to the public interest.

Douglas Rooks is a former daily and weekly newspaper editor who has covered the State House for 25 years. He may be reached at drooks@tds.net.

What do you think of this story?

Login to post comments

In order to make comments, you must create a subscription.

In order to comment on SunJournal.com, you must hold a valid subscription allowing access to this website. You must use your real name and include the town in which you live in your SunJournal.com profile. To subscribe or link your existing subscription click here.

Login or create an account here.

Our policy prohibits comments that are:

  • Defamatory, abusive, obscene, racist, or otherwise hateful
  • Excessively foul and/or vulgar
  • Inappropriately sexual
  • Baseless personal attacks or otherwise threatening
  • Contain illegal material, or material that infringes on the rights of others
  • Commercial postings attempting to sell a product/item
If you violate this policy, your comment will be removed and your account may be banned from posting comments.

Advertisement

Comments

PAUL ST JEAN's picture

Brooks may not believe

Brooks may not believe Governor LePage to be a deep thinker, but from his editorial, Brooks' thinking appears to be somewhere around the level of "Fire bad; food good".

Frank Heller's picture

Additions & Deletions

I apologize for the grammar and syntax errors; but after I poster I realized you can't edit your post...GRRR!

A few corrections and additions:

o The 1995 Hydro power energy study was 1,042 MW of undeveloped hydro potential;

o The same study DID NOT include tidal power estimates and I'm somewhat suspicious of the huge ERPI estimates since they included the Passamaquoddy estuary, where no tidal barrage will ever be built.

o Natural gas can be made from organic waste; and this is now a major governmental initiative in Ontario and Ireland, and reality in Denmark, Germany, and Italy where gas distribution is a municipal enterprise.

Given Portland's gas distribution system and waste disposal problems, I would have thought they'd be in the forefront of applying bio-gas generation technologies; but they seem completely ignorant or government decision making is too fragmented to do anything.

o 'Why I'd even bet THAT WHEN Doug Rooks CONVERTS to electric heat or a RECHARGEABLE electric car, it will only be because of a massive government subsidy."

The sorry history of the GREEN ENERGY ALLIANCE reveals the truth about GREEN MARKETING...that the politicians and their friends who get alt. energy improvements for free or with benefits, are the biggest advocates. take away the subsidies, etc. and the glowing endorsements quickly fade away.

Frank Heller's picture

LePage's sensitivity to protesters of corporate Wind Farming

Odd that Doug Rooks readers of their full understanding of the issues and trends affecting Energy in Maine by lacing his essay with a variety of half-truths about wind power and by his ignorance of the role of Hydro-power as the dominant energy modality when it comes to electricity.

Either he's never heard the U.S. Dept. of Interior spokesman testify recently on how the Obama administration regards hydro-power as the predominant mode of power generation and the major renewable....seems like Rooks doesn't know that it is a renewable, or is he misleading us by omitting this fact?

State Energy chiefs fully understand this and have stated this in a recent newsletter:
"The Department of the Interior (DOE) released the results of an internal study that shows the department could generate up to one million megawatt hours of electricity annually and create jobs by adding hydropower capacity at 70 of its existing facilities"

The DOE Idaho lab issued a technical assessment of Maine's hydro power potential in 1995 that Maine had over MW in undeveloped potential or read Jeff Bingaman's(D)introduction to members of the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural resources that reads like this:

"“I’m glad to co-sponsor the Hydropower Improvement Act with Senator Murkowski and appreciate her willingness to incorporate suggestions from myself and others that will encourage development of hydropower resources while protecting, or even improving, our natural resources." or read Lisa Murkowski's(R) remarks:

"“There is no question that hydropower is, and must continue to be, part of our energy solution. It is the largest source of renewable electricity in the United States. The 100,000 megawatts of hydroelectric capacity we now have today provide about seven percent of the nation’s electricity
needs.
“Hydro-electric generation is carbon-free, baseload power that allows us to avoid approximately 200 million metric tons of carbon emissions each year. Hydropower is clean, efficient, and inexpensive. And yet, despite its tremendous benefits, I’m constantly amazed at how some undervalue this important resource."

“It is a misconception that the hydropower resource is tapped out. In Alaska, hydro already supplies 24 percent of the state’s electricity needs and over 200 promising sites for further hydropower development have been identified."

I bet Rooks never even read the 1992 MAINE COMPREHENSIVE HYDROPOWER PLAN which revealed that approximately 31% of our electricity is produced by hydro generation; and that we have about 297.35 MW of undeveloped capacity....this was revised upward in 1995 by the Idaho National Engineering Laboratory to 1.042 MW.

And while Rooks continues to promote the myth of inexpensive Wind power...how about $.52/KwH,when the wind blows; other States are enjoying downright cheap electric power from HYDRO QUEBEC.

Vermont utilities’ new contract with Hydro-Québec will begin in 2012 at rates below the existing contract, which phases out over the next five years. Central Vermont Public Service (NYSE-CV) and Green Mountain Power today filed information with the Vermont Public Service Board that shows a starting price of $58.07 per megawatt-hour---that's a staggering amount of only $.058(cents) per Kw H.

No wonder Richard Silkman--who Rooks surely should must have heard of, former director of the Maine State Planning office and author of the Comprehensive Hydropower plan stated that not only is the "value of the hydropower to the Northeast region of the U.S. overlooked in Energy planning" but that "hydropower is presently the states' most significant indigenous resource that can be used to free our citizens from their extreme dependence on foreign oil for peaking power".

Rooks engages in Sophistry when he tries to justify the enormous and hidden costs--power line rights of way, access roads, 4 acre/wind turbine clearings, and danger to migratory birds,insects and bats by linking electricity production with reducing oil and gasoline production.

Huh, it's going to take decades at the best to convert Maine's homes and businesses to electric heating, and even longer to convert the rest of us to electric vehicles and battery storage.

Natural gas is sweeping the State....it's cheap and can be made from organic waste from landfills and sewerage treatment plants, making it a non-fossil renewable.

Better yet, there are home CNG refueling stations that will refuel your CNG powered car or truck coming on the market in Australia and in Europe.

Why I'd even bet Doug Rooks has converted to electric heat or a totally electric car, and if he does it will only be because of a massive government subsidy.

Alice Barnett's picture

it's cheap and can be made from organic waste

there you have it......on site power.............no transmission

Dan McKay's picture

Thank you, Penny Gray, for

Thank you, Penny Gray, for what is the logical course needed to help Maine avoid the unnecessary course wind power will set upon us. Higher costs of electricity, we don't need that. Political propaganda that keeps us confused. We don't need that. Exporting electricity just to have it return at a higher cost because of a law mandating " increased use of renewables " . We don't need that. A revamped transmission structure that is way out of whack to the current economy, where electric use is down. We don't need that.
We do need , as you point out, a successful contract with Canadian hydro-power, a conversion from oil heat to natural gas, and an eye to developing nuclear power. I am optimistic and see a new awakening about to take place.

Alice Barnett's picture

Legislature seems to understand this far better than the governo

Stacey Fitts, co-chair of the Joint Standing Committee on Energy, Utilities and Technology, works for Kleinschmidt Associates, an engineering, licensing, environmental service firm offering specialized technical services to the renewable industry.

Alice Barnett's picture

the Legislature seems to understand this far better than the gov

Alex Cornell du Houx, an avid supporter of wind power, is the outreach coordinator of the Truman National Security Project.

A sister organization of the Truman National Security Project is Operation Free, where Mr. Du Houx serves as Campaign Director. The organization’s logo prominently features industrial wind turbines.

Alice Barnett's picture

Fortunately, the Legislature seems to understand this far better

Energy Co-chair Hinck and Wind Industry Lawyer wife Browne not a CONFLICT OF INTEREST - Who is the Maine Ethics Commission?

In some cases, a conflict can exist if the employer or client of a Legislator — or another person or organization in close economic association with the Legislator — has a direct financial interest in legislation." Jon Hinck is married to Juliet Browne who is a lawyer and partner at Verill Dana whose main practice deals with the defense of wind power companies .

Alice Barnett's picture

hydro is no renwable in Maine

please....hydro is ignored in WIND law

Alice Barnett's picture

It’s practically our sole source of industrial growth, plus the

It’s practically our sole source of industrial growth, plus the high-paying jobs that come with it.

It’s practically our sole source of industrial growth, plus the high-paying jobs that come with it.

It’s practically our sole source of industrial growth, plus the high-paying jobs that come with it.

What are the 200,000 + tourism jobs?
What about the firewood business?
What about the medicinal marijuana farming?
What about Casino Service Industry?
Les Otten's ski industry plan works in Western Maine.
His pellet stoves belong in southern Maine.

Penny Gray's picture

Governor LePage needs to undo

Governor LePage needs to undo the Baldacci administration's reclassification of hydropower as a non-renewable energy source, list it once again as a renewable, then negotiate with Canada hydropower for a 20 year cheap fixed rate per KWH, same as Vermont did. We need to get out of RGGI, nix CMP's (Iberdrola's) mulitbillion dollar plans for an uneeded transmission line upgrade, continue to sell our excess electricity to southern New England for a bit of a profit and use the profit to weatherize all of Maine's older housing stock. Natural gas has the potential to help lower heating costs in Maine and promote a healthier business environment. Energy efficiency projects will provide local jobs and help all Mainers keep money in their pockets...or at least channel some of those heating oil costs toward the high cost of food.

Meanwhile, hopefully, our best nuclear physists are working on those Thorium Flouride reactors...

Advertisement

Stay informed — Get the news delivered for free in your inbox.

I'm interested in ...