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December 2, 2020

Maine's climate plan focuses on building economy while tackling challenges

three wind turbins on a hill with a bright blue sky and evergreens covering the hill Photo / Maureen Milliken Gov. Janet Mills has released a four-year climate plan that focuses on renewable energy job creation, less reliance on fossil fuels and additional incentives for business and residents. Pictured is the Kibby Mountain wind project in Franklin County.

An ambitious plan to tackle climate change and its effects while building the state's economy and creating jobs was unveiled Tuesday by Gov. Janet Mills and endorsed by John Kerry, President-elect Joe Biden's special climate envoy.

It seeks to double the number of jobs in renewable energy and energy efficiency industries, offer energy efficiency incentives to businesses and consumers, harness new timber products for construction, lower dependency on fossil-fuel burning transportation and ensure equity for Maine's vulnerable populations.

Mills announced the measures Tuesday in a news conference following completion of the Maine Climate Council's four year action plan, Maine Won't Wait. Mills and the Maine Legislature created the council in early 2019 to tackle climate change while spurring economic growth.

Pairing climate action with economic recovery makes Maine a national leader, Kerry said Tuesday. 

“Not only will you set an example to our country and to the world, but you will be helping to make the world more secure," he said. "When we depend on our own clean energy for our future, we don’t have to worry about sending people to the Middle East or elsewhere to fight and defend the source of our energy. The world will be more stable. Maine is going to be ahead of the curve and get the job done for us and help set an example for every other state," he said.

Mill said Maine not only won't wait, but the state can't wait. “From rising seas to warming temperatures to deadly natural disasters, humanity has been warned for generations that our climate is changing in profound and dangerous ways and yet not enough has been done to slow or stop it,” she said.

Implementing the plan will include major policy changes at the state level, as well as through business, education and consumer habit.

Some specifics of the plan are:

  • Increasing clean energy jobs in Maine to 30,000 by 2030;
  • Expanding consumer and business incentives for things like buying electric vehicles, home weatherization and lowering the dependency on fossil fuels to heat homes;
  • Increasing purchase of renewable energy through the state procurement process;
  • Creating energy efficiency incentive programs for businesses;
  • Supporting innovative construction materials that rely on Maine timber and other "clean building" measures;
  • Supporting agricultural systems that are more efficient, both with energy and environmental impact, as well as with getting products to Maine consumers.

An equity subcommittee has also been created to ensure climate actions are conducted with a focus on protecting and supporting vulnerable communities most at risk from climate disruption.

Maulian Dana, state ambassador of the Penobscot Nation and co-chair of the subcommittee, said, “A society is only as strong as the most vulnerable populations and this holds true in climate work. As we make new and existing policy we need to work from a place of inclusivity and equity to make sure our work in lasting and meaningful.

“I am hoping to shed a light on the experiences of marginalized people in Maine and how the climate crisis affects us as well as solutions based in thoughtful consideration of these stories," she said.

Economic impact already being felt

Climate change is expected to have a serious impact on all sectors of Maine’s economy, from tourism, agriculture and forestry to transportation and trade, the report says. Warmer temperatures, more rain, and sea-level rise will increase the incidence of flooding and damage to property and infrastructure.

The plan says that failure to act carries a big environmental and economic risk, and will damage buildings and infrastructure, ecosystems, iconic species and public health. An assessment of the “cost of doing" included more than $17 billion in damages to coastal buildings and infrastructure through 2050 as well as billions more lost from tourism due to seasonal changes, lost beachfronts, employment and valuable ecosystems.

Conversely, the economic potential from climate action, particularly clean energy and energy efficiency fields, will have a positive impact, the report said. Renewable energy sectors, like wind and solar, are among the fastest growing in the nation.

The state since January 2019 has already set some of the most aggressive renewable energy goals in the country – 80% renewable energy by 2030, and 100% for 2050; cutting greenhouse gas emissions 45% by 2030, and 80% by 2050, as well as pledging to achieve carbon neutrality by 2045.

Measures the state has already taken are having an impact, said Jon Fitzgerald, Bath Iron Works' vice president and general counsel.

BIW has trimmed electrical costs "improving our ability to compete with other shipyards that have lower energy costs,” Fitzgerald said. “Forward-looking energy policy, along with workforce training partnerships, are helping clean energy developers, BIW and the state as a whole grow the highly skilled jobs that are vital to building Maine’s economic future.”

The Mills administration last year joined the U.S. Climate Alliance, a coalition of 25 governors and states that have committed to climate action; withdrew from a national offshore drilling coalition; and got rid of a state moratorium on clean wind power development.

In November, Mills announced the state’s intention to start the country’s first floating offshore wind research array in the country in the Gulf of Maine, in partnership with the University of Maine and two offshore wind companies. The Governor's Energy Office also released a report in November that says the state's clean energy industry is poised to take on the challenges and boost the economy.

The state in January partnered with Efficiency Maine to install 100,000 new high-efficiency heat pumps to replace oil dependency for heating homes by 2025, as well as partnering with MaineHousing to help those who struggle with high heating bills to access the technology. Maine is on pace to install 16,000 heat pumps this year, more than double what was done last year.

A collective effort

The Maine Climate Council, made up of scientists, industry leaders, bipartisan local and state elected officials and other state residents, was charged with developing a plan to reduce carbon emissions and achieve carbon neutrality in Maine by 2045. Mills plans to submit legislation this session that would achieve that, based on the council's suggestions.

Council co-chairs are Hannah Pingree, director of the Governor’s Office of Policy Innovation and the Future, and Melanie Loyzim, acting commissioner of the Maine Department of Environmental Protection. They said Tuesday the plan "will bring consistent and bold action on climate, over the next four years and into the decades beyond, to create a better future for our state and the next generations."

"Every individual, business, organization, and leader in Maine can play a role in making this plan a reality," they said. "This collective effort will be key to our success against the crisis that climate change poses for our state, nation, and world.”

Mills measures were supported Tuesday in statements by Maine Senate President Troy Jackson, D-Allagash; incoming House Speaker Ryan Fecteau, D-Biddeford; U.S. Sens. Susan Collins and Angus King, and U.S. Representatives Chellie Pingree and Jared Golden. Mills said she'd work closely with Maine’s congressional delegation to advance the goals of the plan.

Maine Won’t Wait features contributions from more than 200 people, six expert working groups, and scientific and technical subcommittee, as well as input from thousands of other Maine people and stakeholders.

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