Monday, November 26, 2007

Cleaning up with clean energy

Maine could prosper as a supplier of power from renewable
resources -- but Mainers would have to act soon.

KURT ADAMS (Chairman of Maine Public Utilities Commission)
November 25, 2007

High energy costs and climate change are creating enormous
challenges for New England. But those challenges can work to
Maine's benefit, if the state begins now to chart its own course.

Responding to popular and governmental demands for "clean"
energy that doesn't create excessive greenhouse gases, regional
and global energy players are on the hunt for more electricity
that's made from renewable resources, like wind, water and the
sun. As it happens, Maine has more of these renewable
resources than any other state in New England.

Not only does renewable energy reduce pollution, but its
relatively steady pricing structures also free energy suppliers
from the volatility of the fossil fuel markets. Through sensible
development of new energy regulations and infrastructure, our
state could boost its economy while taking a leadership role in
the region's response to both global warming and rising energy

Maine must act quickly. Recent and upcoming federal
regulations could pre-empt the state's ability to determine its
own energy future. The time has come for Mainers to decide, on
their own terms, how to use this state's native resources against
the greatest threat of our times, global warming, and prosper as
a result.


Since 2000, New England has seen a 42 percent increase in retail
electricity prices, driven by volatile but generally rising fossil fuel
prices.Electricity generated using natural gas has mushroomed
from a fraction of the energy mix to a majority in just 10 years.

Emissions of carbon dioxide, a powerful greenhouse gas, have
vaulted as electricity producers have shifted away from sources
of electric generation that emit comparatively little CO2. And
emissions of CO2 from power generation in this region are
projected to grow substantially to meet rising electricity demand
over the next decade.

Leaders in the Northeastern states have responded by requiring
utilities to put more renewable energy into their portfolios, and
by committing to the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative. RGGI,
as it's called, sets limits on the amount of carbon pollution
major power plants can create. It also establishes a marketplace
for a new kind of commodity -- carbon credits that can be sold
by generators that work under their emissions cap, and bought
by those that exceed it. The system rewards efficiency and CO2
reduction and is similar to programs that have succeeded in
reducing other pollutants.

RGGI caps CO2 emissions from large power plants at current
levels in 2009, and then ratchets them down by 10 percent
beginning in 2015. RGGI's goals will be met, in part, by revenue
it will create in order to fund aggressive investments in energy
efficiency. Efficiency is one of those win-win measures:
Consumers and businesses save money when they use fewer
electrons, while reduced demand means less pollution, including

Still, even with more efficient energy use, the combined
demands of renewable standards and RGGI mean that New
England will need as much as 8,000 megawatts of energy
produced with little or no carbon dioxide emissions. That's an
enormous amount of power, enough to light 8 million homes.


Amidst this complex web sits Maine and its abundance of
renewable energy sources, from 19th-century hydrodams to
advanced wind turbines and even -- in the foreseeable future --
tidal power.

Right now, wind offers the most substantial growth opportunity:
It is here and endless. There are multiple wind projects in the
works in Maine, comprising more than 1,000 MW of generation
-- that is, enough to power 1 million homes. Analysts believe
that roughly another 3,000 MW of wind capacity could be
developed in Maine.

Maine is also blessed by its strategic location between major
sources of energy to the north, and markets to the south. A
recent report by Maine and New Brunswick officials identified
nearly 7,000 MW of renewable and low-emission power
generation resources that could come on line in Atlantic Canada
for export to the New England market by 2015.

Together, Maine and Atlantic Canada can produce 11,000 MW of
new, low-impact energy generation to serve the region -- more
than enough to meet the demand of the region's renewable
energy portfolios and top-end estimates of what RGGI requires.
And it's energy that will be largely insulated from the financial
and other risks that come with imported fossil fuels.


In order to unlock this potential, the state would need to host
several major generators, including wind farms, within its
borders. Maine would also need to host new transmission lines
to move power from here and from Canada to market

Large generation projects and transmission lines could challenge
us all in many ways. Project developers must bring their
expertise and capital to bear on projects that work for everyone
in Maine, not just shareholders. Siting agencies must make
certain that new energy projects do not harm the natural and
cultural resources that we hold dear, and that form the
backbone of our economy. We at the PUC must ensure that only
transmission projects that are in the public interest will be

For all of us, three principles should guide the development of
new energy infrastructure.

n First, Maine's special places and its character must not be
sacrificed to uncontrolled infrastructure development. Logical
standards for balancing competing environmental, economic
and community interests must be employed. And most
important, citizens must take their role in guaranteeing that
balance, by fully engaging developers and regulators during the
permit process.

n Second, we must see a benefit in our monthly electric bills.
Right now, federal rules force Mainers to subsidize energy
investments in larger, wealthier areas to our south. The Maine
PUC is fighting some of these rules in court, and the commission
soon will issue an analysis of the pros and cons of leaving the
regional organization that administers them. When new energy
systems are created to meet demand and greenhouse gas goals,
states like Maine which host regional energy infrastructure
should not be penalized by regional or federal rules.

n Finally, energy project developers should employ Mainers in
the construction and operation of their facilities. If Maine is to
supply the kilowatts for a new era of low-impact energy use, the
jobs created by this cutting-edge growth industry should be
located here.


If Maine wants to keep control of its energy future, quick action
is needed.

Two years ago, Congress passed a law that allows the U.S.
secretary of energy to establish National Interest Electricity
Transmission Corridors. Designated corridor states basically
have two choices: permit a project within the corridor, or face
having it permitted for them -- even when it may harm the
state's consumers or environment.

Gov. John Baldacci and Maine's congressional delegation have
worked against a corridor designation here. But states' fears are
being realized in New York, Pennsylvania and Virginia, where
local uproar has greeted a corridor designation by the U.S.
Department of Energy. And concerns are being elevated by a
proposed amendment to the energy law that would broaden
federal authority by allowing pre-emption of state regulations
governing development of power lines serving renewable
resources, including wind.

It is simply not acceptable for Maine to become a generation
park controlled from beyond its borders. There is a fast-closing
window for the state to create a regional energy corridor on
Maine's own terms.

I have been working on energy issues in Maine for 10 years. I
have never before witnessed a time of such challenge and
opportunity. I am confident, however, that we will navigate
these difficult times successfully if we channel development
along sound principles, and ensure that decisions about Maine's
economic and environmental future are made not in Washingon,
but here in Maine.

Copyright © 2007 Blethen Maine Newspapers

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