The plan represents the beginning of a more sustainable economic and environmental future for our state.
By Sam Zuckerman and Mike Curran, Special to the Press Herald
Portland Press Herald news story
The solar industry is growing fast. Partly because costs of installation are falling across the nation with each new investment, another home or business is going solar in the United States every 2.5 minutes. Since 2010 alone, prices have fallen by 46 percent.
That rapid growth is being felt right here in Maine, where 3.5 megawatts of solar capacity were installed in Maine in 2014, a 43 percent increase over a single year.
Even sunnier news: Solar energy is poised to play a major role in Maine’s transition to a cleaner future. That’s exactly why we need the Clean Power Plan, which was released last month by the Environmental Protection Agency.
The plan is the biggest step the country’s ever taken on climate change. These new standards will cut carbon pollution from dirty coal, gas and oil power plants by 30 percent by the year 2030. The plan allows flexibility for states to cut emissions how they choose, but rewards states that choose to invest in renewables.
“Solar works in all 50 states, has zero carbon emissions, creates more jobs per megawatt than any other technology and can be deployed cost-effectively and quickly – all while improving grid reliability,” said Rhone Resch, president and CEO of the Solar Energy Industries Association, a national trade group, following the Clean Power Plan’s release.
The Clean Power Plan builds on the incredible momentum that Maine’s businesses, communities, and individuals have already built through their investments in solar.
On Earth Day this past April, the sun shone on Maine’s first community solar farm in South Paris. Community solar farms offer more Mainers the opportunity to get in on the solar boom while saving on their electricity bills. Community solar farms reach the 85 percent of customers who aren’t able to invest in solar because their properties are unsuitable. On Aug. 12, another community solar farm opened in Edgecomb.
As we rely less and less on polluting coal and gas plants, Mainers have the opportunity to become energy independent through investing in solar. The number one obstacle is the will of decision-makers.
Behind California, Massachusetts employs the second most workers in the solar industry. Maine is ranked 43rd, with just over 400 jobs at 43 companies. The reason for the discrepancy between Maine and Massachusetts: The only state in New England without a solar development policy in place is Maine.
At the same time, federal tax credits for solar investments are scheduled to expire by the end of 2016. Potential projects would be left in flux as costs will rise if the credits are allowed to expire.
That’s why Maine Solar Solutions has joined over 670 installers, manufacturers and others in the industry – including 12 businesses from Maine – on a letter last month to the White House, endorsing the Clean Power Plan and calling for solar energy to play a strong role in its rollout.
The Clean Power Plan is a huge step forward. When the Clean Power Plan was announced Aug. 3, solar incentives came with it. The rule’s Clean Energy Incentive Program will reward states that choose to cut their emissions by investing in solar.
Furthermore, under the program, credits will be awarded to projects that generate renewable energy in 2020 and 2021, and begin construction after a state submits their implementation plan. These incentives will drive quicker investment in solar, with the goal of making clean energy affordable for all Mainers.
Maine has proven that it’s up to the challenge to create a cleaner energy future. Since joining the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative in 2009, the regional cap-and-trade program has cut Maine’s emissions while saving Mainers on their electricity bills. According to “States of Progress,” a recent report by the Union of Concerned Scientists, an environmental advocacy group, Maine is on track to surpass its 2030 pollution reduction targets because of its participation in RGGI.
Maine’s government can and should do more to support one of the state’s most promising industries, for the future of our economy and environment. We can’t afford tax credits expiring in 2016. We can’t afford the Gulf of Maine’s rapid warming.
Simply put: Maine can’t continue business as usual. The Clean Power Plan is the beginning of a more sustainable economic and environmental future.
As big polluters and their allies ramp up their opposition to the Clean Power Plan in Congress, it’s vital that Mainers stand for a clean energy future. We hope that Sen. Susan Collins – a key vote in the Senate – will also stand with Mainers for the sake of our environment, sustainable industries and future generations.
ABOUT THE AUTHORS: Sam Zuckerman is owner of Maine Solar Solutions, a Portland-based solar energy equipment supplier, and Mike Curran is a campaign organizer for Environment Maine, also in Portland.