Feed-in tariffs, popularized in Europe and Canada, would unlock Maine’s energy economy.

The Legislature is currently considering LD 1450, an act to establish feed-in tariffs in Maine. Feed-in tariffs were originated in Germany, and have helped Germany to create 200,000 new green jobs.

The basic mechanism of a feed-in tariff is to allow a small energy producer to be paid for their investment. The rate of return is capped at 8 percent, well below the margin earned by some utility companies. Feed-in tariffs are encouraged by law in well over 30 countries, including Ontario, Canada.

Germany is one of the world’s largest exporters with strong trade surplus and a high standard of living. Their carbon emissions are now below 1990 levels. In each country, it has encouraged strong growth of self-generated energy. All the revenue for self-generated energy stays local, rather going to foreign oil producing countries. This is true self-sufficiency.

While green energy may initially cost more, it will never cause respiratory ailments or high mercury content in our lakes or air. And as oil rises (it’s currently in the $60/barrel range) green power rates will stay constant. There has been some concern expressed by the utilities about numerous small contracts. This is practically already in place, as each home and each business is under contractual obligation to pay the utility. Moreover, those homes and businesses that currently generate power must be given credit for that, although no more than one year’s worth. So the expressed concern about myriad contracts has little, if any, validity.

Maine’s islanders pay extremely high electric rates, because it all comes from large on-shore power generators. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if they were encouraged to build turbines and look at wind, tidal and wave power to generate electricity and send it ashore to their benefit, rather than pay exorbitant rates and have the money for the damaging fossil fuel component leave the state forever?

While the initial cost of myriad wind and solar installations would result in an extremely modest and momentary rise in rates to all, there would be a permanent cap on those energy installations, keeping longer term costs much flatter in Maine. Is there better economic relief than a plan to stop energy costs from rising? When oil prices go up, it would not trigger an increase in rates, and the ratepayers who may have paid a few dollars a year more will wind up saving hundreds of dollars over the next series of years.

And all that money — to the small local generators and the ratepayers — will stay in Maine!

Without this legislation, Maine will continue to be very adversely impacted by imported power.

At this time, small independent power generators on homes and businesses can receive a credit for the power that they generate, up to a year’s worth of credit, but everything generated above this is a gift to our public utilities. Is this a reasonable and fair policy? And which would encourage you to build your own facility more, the knowledge that you could get a credit of up to a year, or the hope that in a good year when the wind blew and the sun shone, you could get a cash return on your investment?

The return on individual green power is capped at 8 percent annually, so it clearly is not a get-rich-quick scheme. Nothing is better from a power security perspective than a widely diversified source of power. If one turbine or panel is damaged, there will be many, many more to keep the grid working for all of us.

The move for Maine to produce green power is an incredibly important one, and LD 1450, establishing feed-in tariffs, is the most effective policy we can have to bring that critical goal into place. Dirigo, I lead, is Maine’s wonderful motto. This is a powerful policy for Maine to establish its leadership position strongly in a growing field.

Nothing else will bring about the green jobs that feed-in tariffs will bring. Not only will there be many local tradesmen kept very busy, but those industries looking to build wind turbines, tidal turbines, wave power rods, solar panels for electricity and solar panels for hot water — all of these dynamic new industries — will look at Maine as the place which did so much for their industry. Maine’s economic development teams will have so much more to tell and sell!

Let’s employ Maine people in good new jobs, attract new growth industry, keep energy money in Maine, keep its long-term energy costs affordable, and keep Maine green!

Lawmakers, support and pass LD 1450.

Jim Wellehan is owner and chief executive officer of Lamey-Wellehan shoe stores. He lives in Auburn. E-mail [email protected]


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