Opinion: Maine Moving Away From Environmental Improvements

on October 29, 2013 at 2:00 PM

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The race is on across the U.S. as states compete to lead in the green energy industry. Solar panels, wind turbines and geothermal energy facilities have popped up all over the nation. But not every state has been successful. Maine, for example, appears to be moving in the wrong direction. As of late, the state has only impeded its efforts to go green and protect the environment.

In May the University of Maine launched the nation’s first offshore wind turbine. Though the turbine was simply a prototype, many believed that Maine was poised to launch the nation’s first grid-connected offshore wind farm as well. In fact, the Pine Tree State had already given regulatory approval and a 20-year contract to Statoil, a Norwegian energy company, so it could build four offshore turbines 12 miles off the coast. Statoil won the right to construct turbines on the land through a competitive bidding process

But in July, the state’s potential to be the first in offshore wind energy went down the drain. Paul LePage, Maine’s governor, opposed the $200 million in costs that Statoil planned to pass on to Maine’s ratepayers so he signed legislation to reopen the competitive bidding process and halt Statoil’s project.

It’s this government change and a number of scheduling delays that made the project outlook unclear according to Statoil. The company chose not to proceed with the wind farm, pulling its $120 million project out of Maine. It will instead focus its attention on another offshore wind project in Scotland.

The University of Maine has put in a bid for the abandoned site, but it has been so confidential with its plans that many people doubt a contract will actually come to fruition. The Maine Public Utility Commission has given the university until the end of October to release details regarding its plans for the offshore site.

But the wind industry isn’t the only area where the state is obstructing its environmental progress. The Maine environmental department just proposed a set of laws regarding mining that could have serious consequences for the environment. The proposed rules would weaken land and water protections to encourage mining and leave the ecosystem vulnerable to sulfuric acid and toxins, according to activists.

Proponents of the plan believe reviving the mining of gold, silver, copper and other metals in Bald Mountain can bring about 700 jobs to the area, stimulating the economy. But opponents say without strong environmental regulations accompanying the new law, mining could destroy the natural beauty of the mountain.

Massachusetts is Slowly Making a Push

You’ve probably heard about the many renewable energy projects in California or the wind farms spinning wind into energy in Texas, but the next big state for alternative energy solutions might just be Massachusetts. Although the state is small, it’s been making a big splash in the green scene.

One of the reasons for this progress could be attributed to the state’s deregulated energy market. Massachusetts allows its consumers to purchase electricity from retail energy providers, including those that sell green energy options. One could argue that these options have helped drive the number of renewable energy generation facilities in the state.

Since Massachusetts restructured its electricity market, it has passed even more legislation regarding energy. For example, the state has implemented aggressive renewable energy goals that have been driving a lot of green growth. Today, Massachusetts generates more than 310 MW of solar energy and 100 MW of wind energy. The state also gets about 13.2 percent of its total energy consumption from hydropower in the winter and 14.2 percent in the summer, according to the state’s Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs.

And Massachusetts’ green job sector is expanding to meet the renewable energy demand as well. Since 2011, the state has experienced a 24 percent growth in clean energy jobs according to a report from the Massachusetts Clean Energy Center (MassCEC). Approximately 80,000 people have jobs in the clean energy industry in Massachusetts, including those focused on carbon management, alternative transportation, technology and renewable energy.

To top it all off, Massachusetts may end up being the first state to launch wind energy offshore now that Maine’s out of the running. The Cape Wind project, a proposed wind farm with 130 turbines off the coast of Cape Cod, will most likely start construction in the next year. Once it’s up and running, the wind farm will supply about 75 percent of the electricity for Cape Cod, a town with a population of 215,000 people.

Kristina Ross is a freelance writer whose work concentrates on sustainable energy practices. She promotes the reduction of environmental impact through cleaner means of energy production and consumption.