There is an explosion of growth in clean energy jobs across the country.

Today, about 3.3 million people nationwide work in solar, wind, energy efficiency, clean technology or transportation. For the sake of comparison, there are about 3 million elementary, middle and secondary school teachers nationwide. Clean energy is a field that is predicted to keep growing too, as consumer demand increases and production costs decline.

Jobs in the clean energy field range from highly skilled technicians, electricians, plumbers, pipefitters and construction workers to engineers, permitting specialists, environmental scientists and everything in between. These are good, high-paying jobs.

Maine has long been a leader in clean energy. Between hydroelectric, biomass and wind, almost three quarters of the electricity produced here comes from renewable sources. But there are opportunities for us to promote this growing field while preserving our heritage industries.

That’s why increasing renewable energy production in Maine was a top priority for lawmakers this session.

A bill from my colleague Sen. Eloise Vitelli of Arrowsic sets a target for Maine utilities to increase the amount of energy they get from renewable sources to 100 percent by 2050. This bill was the result of many, many months of work by stakeholders including the environmental community, renewable energy industry, business advocacy organizations, large energy consumers, and others. It will encourage investment in clean energy and the jobs and other economic benefits that come with it.

Another bill that passed this session specifically targets solar energy. As costs for solar energy generation have dropped (as much as 99 percent since President Carter installed panels on the White House), installations have surged. However, in Maine, solar policy has been prohibitive, with clumsy billing mechanisms, needless hurdles and red tape curbing growth. Bills introduced by Rep. Seth Berry of Bowdoinham and Sen. Dana Dow of Waldoboro repealed and reworked some of these regulations, opening up opportunities for individual homeowners who want to install systems on their homes and for the construction of larger “community solar systems”owned by multiple parties or commercial entities. The governor has signed these bills into law.

Nearly two-thirds of Maine households use fuel oil as their primary energy source for home heating, a larger share than in any other state. One of the biggest challenges we face is high and fluctuating oil prices. It’s something I hear from people about regularly, especially seniors on fixed incomes – unexpected increases in the cost of oil force them to cut back on other things that they need. There are some resources available to help folks in that situation, but a much better long term solution is to invest in efficient heating systems.

This was another area where we made a lot of progress this year. One bill, from Sen. Mark Lawrence of Eliot, sets a target of installing 100,000 new heat pumps in Maine by 2025. Maine already has over 30,000 installed, and homeowners and businesses who use them report energy savings and increased comfort. This new law will offer incentives for homeowners and businesses to install heat pumps, lowering the up-front costs of such an upgrade. The energy savings from this program will be significant.

These policy changes will allow Maine to continue to be a leader in clean energy and will promote the growth of good, high-paying jobs in the trades and other fields.

If you have any questions or comments, I’d be happy to hear from you. I can be reached by email at [email protected] or by phone at (207) 287-1515. I work for you, and you have a right to hold me accountable.

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