Patty B. Wight
This year marks a milestone for the country’s first cap and trade program for greenhouse gases. It’s been three years since the RGGI, or The Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, was implemented by Maine and nine other states in the east. The goal was to reduce greenhouse gases by requiring power plants to pay for carbon allowances. In its first review of the program, Environment Northeast said states have seen significant economic gains, and those gains could be better if emissions are further capped.
Under the RGGI program, power plants are required to pay for their carbon emissions. The result is dirtier power plants have to pay more, and those proceeds get funneled into energy efficient programs. According to Environment Northeast – the nonprofit organization that helped design and implement RGGI – the program has generated $30 million in revenue for Maine and around 1,000 jobs. The net value of the past three years, said Environment Northeast’s Maine director Beth Nagusky, is $102 million. That includes wages from jobs created, as well as money consumers spend from savings on their energy bills.
“I think that what RGGI has shown is that it’s possible to operate a cap and trade program that can work,” said Nagusky.
All of the money raised through RGGI, save for administrative costs, goes into energy efficient projects. If you’ve bought discounted fluorescent light bulbs from Efficiency Maine, that was funded with money from RGGI. If you qualified for the low-income appliance replacement program, that was funded by RGGI. The program has also given grants to businesses, like Jackson Laboratory in Bar Harbor and Twin Papers in Madawaska to increase efficiency and cut costs.
“The program is important because it addresses pollution and it reduces pollution, and it does it in a way that saves consumers money and saves our businesses in the state money, reduces the overall demand for electricity,” said David Littell, commissioner for Maine Public Utilities and the vice chair of RGGI. “So it’s economically efficient. It keeps money in the region. It produces real economic value.”
So much so, said Beth Nagusky, that Environment Northeast wants RGGI states to cap emissions further. She said current carbon emission levels were set between eight and nine years ago, and those levels need to lowered to further reduce carbon pollution.
“This analysis shows that if we were to do that, if we were to reduce the cap, in the next eight years, RGGI could generate an additional 161 million dollars in Maine in energy efficiency programs,” Nagusky said.
She said that could create more than 5,000 jobs and a net economic value of over $500 million. The Maine Office of Energy Independence and Security was unable to return calls by airtime to comment on future plans for RGGI. Officials from all ten states will meet over the course of the year to decide what changes, if any, should be made to the program.