Office of the Public Advocate | CLF Maine | Natural Resources Council of Maine | Sierra Club Maine
Maine’s Public Advocate and Clean Energy Groups Partnering to Tackle the Problem
A bill being considered by the Maine Legislature this year seeks to address the looming customer risks associated with utility gas infrastructure expansion, as well as the human health and climate risks that come along with the operation of the gas system.
LD 2077 is the result of a unique partnership between the Office of the Public Advocate (OPA) and major clean energy groups who argue it is time to get more information and data about the threats natural gas poses to Maine people and communities. It puts reasonable limits on gas utilities incurring and passing along expenses to customers, and launches research studies to explore health impacts, customer impacts, and the use of district geothermal energy as an alternative technology for home heating.
“Given natural gas utilities’ continued requests for double- and triple-digit rate increases—on top of already historically high costs to ratepayers, the time has come when we can no longer let the industry continue with its business-as-usual approach to expansion,” said Public Advocate William Harwood. “We need to carefully study the future of our gas utilities and avoid burdening ratepayers with high costs needed to support unnecessary and unwise expansion.”
One of the biggest concerns with expanding the gas system is the impact on Maine families and businesses who are expected to pay for new expansions on top of paying for the existing expensive pipeline infrastructure managed by gas utilities in their energy bills.
Gas utilities have an incentive to expand their pipeline systems and pass those costs on to gas customers, even though expanding fossil fuel infrastructure is expensive and inconsistent with the state’s climate goals. As more and more homes, attracted by lower costs and federal and state incentives, transition to high-efficiency heat pumps, gas customers will increasingly be forced to shoulder the burden of stranded natural gas assets.
“The multiple devastating climate-linked disasters that Maine communities have suffered in the past month should make crystal clear the need to redouble our efforts to lessen our dependence on out-of-state oil and gas,” said Jack Shapiro, Climate & Clean Energy Director at the Natural Resources Council of Maine. “The evidence is stacking up that business-as-usual operation of the gas system is bad for our health and creates major risks to ratepayers and our climate. This bill takes a common-sense approach by first stopping making the problem worse, then considering how we can sensibly move forward toward a cleaner, healthier energy future.”
Gas production and distribution emits methane, which is a potent greenhouse gas linked to climate change, fueling extreme weather events like December’s flooding, January’s devastating storm surges, last summer’s wildfire smoke, and other impacts that are already wreaking havoc on local communities.
Expansion of the utility gas system undermines Maine’s bipartisan emissions reduction laws and the goals of the state’s Climate Action Plan that were adopted to slow these impacts, according to clean energy experts.
“The people of Maine have already shouldered the burden of climate change’s increasingly severe health and safety consequences; they shouldn’t foot the bill to expand a gas system that perpetuates it, too,” said Ania Wright, Political and Legislative Specialist at Sierra Club Maine. “LD 2077 offers an opportunity for Maine to reassess its ties to polluting gas infrastructure and change course. To ensure the thriving, sustainable communities Maine families deserve, we must move beyond fossil fuels and toward a clean, renewable energy future for all.”
Burning gas inside homes for heating or cooking has also been repeatedly linked by scientists to serious health impacts, especially for children, the elderly, and those with existing health conditions.
Gas combustion emits harmful nitrogen oxides, and unburned gas leaking from appliances contains toxic air pollutants linked to cancer. Instead of curbing this serious health impact on Maine people, natural gas utilities market their products as clean despite clear evidence to the contrary.
“Fossil gas is polluting our planet and harming Mainers right in their own homes. We can’t keep talking out of both sides of our mouths, setting aggressive climate mandates while allowing gas utilities to carry on with business as usual,” said Emily K. Green, Senior Attorney at CLF Maine. “It’s past time to take a hard look at the ever-expanding gas network and plot our transition away from fossil fuels for good, and this bill is a great step in that direction.”
LD 2077 was submitted by the Office of the Public Advocate and is sponsored by Representative Paige Ziegler and Senator Mark Lawrence. The bill will receive a public hearing before the Joint Committee on Energy and Utilities on Tuesday, January 23, 2024.