The future must be powered by clean, renewable energy produced here in Maine. Whether it’s running our heat pumps in our homes or powering the cars and buses we take to get where we need to go, we’ll need reliable, affordable, carbon- and pollution-free energy sources.
Maine’s new Climate Action Plan lays out the strategies that will help get us there by building on smart policies like Efficiency Maine’s successful heat pump program. This program is reducing Mainers’ reliance on expensive home heating oil, and the state’s solar programs are creating new jobs and generating lower cost electricity for towns, businesses, and residents throughout Maine.
The backbone of this stronger, healthier future will be a complete transformation of our outdated power grid. That’s why as the Natural Resources Council of Maine’s clean energy experts we participated in and support the recommendations of the Maine Utility/Regulatory Reform and Decarbonization Initiative (MURRDI), a collective effort to develop broad consensus around electric grid planning and modernization, and other electricity system reforms needed to achieve Maine’s recently established climate and clean energy requirements. To learn more about how our electricity grid works check out this Union of Concerned Scientists explainer.
But this work is not just necessary for our climate, it’s also about keeping Maine’s economy healthy and competitive. A massive global shift away from polluting fossil fuels to clean energy is already underway. Maine can make the most of this shift by becoming a clean energy transition leader and innovator. Doing so will create hundreds of new jobs here in Maine and ensure a healthier, more vibrant and resilient economic future for everyone.
Leading in the clean energy transition will also position Maine to take advantage of potential federal funding sources and programs. President Biden included funds in his American Jobs Plan for upgrades to our nation’s outdated electric grid to increase reliability and better support the transition to a clean energy future. NRCM urges Maine’s Congressional delegation to support this historic infrastructure plan so that investments like this can be made as soon as possible.
The April 2021 MURRDI report details steps Maine should take to plan, build, and operate the electric grid, hasten Maine’s economic recovery, and meet our climate and energy goals. Here is what the report says Maine should do:
- Adopt and implement a forward-looking, holistic grid planning process with input from stakeholders that allows key actors to more strategically make system operations, planning, and investment decisions.
- Endorse and build on the New England States’ Vision for a Clean Affordable, and Reliable 21st Century Regional Electric Grid, and its specific recommendations regarding wholesale market design, transmission system planning, and governance under ISO-NE (the agency that operates our regional electric grid).
- Move toward more dynamic grid and rate structures that empower consumers to create and store their own electricity. These structures should more accurately reflect the cost of producing and delivering power and take into account Maine’s climate and energy requirements.
- Advance a new electric vehicle fast charger network that encourages more people to drive electric.
- Provide more transparency and accessible data about energy use and development.
- Encourage innovation in energy use and storage.
- Increase reliability and support clean energy by developing transmission improvements in Northern Maine that minimize environmental impacts.
- Expand the Public Utilities Commission’s scope of work to explicitly consider Maine’s climate goals, equity implications and impacts on environmental justice communities.
The MURRDI report doesn’t address whether Maine’s investor-owned utilities, Central Maine Power and Versant Power, should be a part of this future. However, through our advocacy work we’ve seen enough obstructionism and outdated thinking from these companies (particularly CMP) that we seriously question whether or not our investor-owned utilities have Maine’s best interests at heart. One only needs to look at CMP’s recent failure to properly facilitate the connection of solar energy projects, its controversial corridor project, worst-in-the-nation rating for customer service, and billing fiasco to see a company that seems unable and unwilling to be a constructive part of Maine’s clean energy future.
For this reason, NRCM believes that we should include consideration of a consumer-owned utility (COU) in any further electric grid reform and modernization discussions. A COU could be just what Maine needs to achieve our beneficial electrification and decarbonization goals.
Maine’s “grid of the future” must empower all consumers and make sure that our electric utilities are committed partners, not impediments, in the transition to a clean energy future. As we move forward, we must center this work on the needs of Maine’s residents and communities and what we need to do to tackle climate change, and take full advantage of the public health, environmental, and economic benefits of our transition to clean energy.
—by David Costello and Sue Ely