by Alanna Durkin, Associated Press
Boston Globe news story
(AP) — A bill aimed at boosting solar energy development in Maine will strengthen the economy by creating jobs, protect the environment by reducing the dependence on fossil fuels and bring the state up to speed with the rest of New England in harnessing the sun’s power, advocates said on Tuesday.
Under the bill, the state would make its goal to have 40 megawatts of solar energy development by 2016 and 200 megawatts by 2020 — or enough to power roughly 30,000 homes — bringing Maine up to par with states like Massachusetts that already have met that landmark, supporters say.
But opposition from Republican Gov. Paul LePage’s office gives the bill an uncertain future. Patrick Woodcock, director of the Governor’s Energy Office, said that while the administration agrees with the environmental goals of the bill, it believes the free market should determine the best form of energy to take the state there.
‘‘I certainly want to work with the Legislature to develop a policy that does utilize solar, but let’s not be blind to other opportunities to address our energy challenges,’’ he told the Energy, Utilities and Technology Committee.
Environmental groups, which are making the bill sponsored by Democratic Sen. Eloise Vitelli of Arrowsic a priority this short legislative session, say encouraging solar development in Maine is a no-brainer in the effort to combat climate change. Lawmakers say solar projects currently generate fewer than 4 megawatts of power in the state.
‘‘It is difficult to overstate the imperative to reduce our combustion of fossil fuels that is raising temperatures and sea-levels, increasing acidity in the oceans, threatening many sectors of our economy… and increasing diseases such as Lyme and West Nile,’’ Dylan Voorhees, clean energy director for the Natural Resources Council of Maine said in his prepared testimony before the committee.
Woodcock said when it comes to energy goals already on the books in Maine, they’re either nearly impossible to meet or have no metrics to see how the state is doing in achieving them. Maine isn’t expected to come close to meeting the goal of producing 2,000 megawatts of power through wind projects by 2015.
‘‘What happens when we get to the goals outlined in the bill … is it a gold star?’’ Woodcock said. There are other ways to address climate change, like improving natural gas generation in existing facilities and reducing energy use by increasing efficiency, Woodcock said.
In a letter to lawmakers on Tuesday, LePage — who has made reducing energy costs a priority of his administration — said the state must utilize Maine’s ‘‘natural resources to lower heating and electricity costs for Mainers — not just comply with New England’s environmental goals.’’
But supporters emphasized the economic benefits of increased solar energy development. Vaughan Woodruff, owner of Pittsfield-based Insource Renewables, said some solar companies are losing employees to other New England states where the pay is better and jobs are more stable.
As Maine continues to lag behind, solar technology is demonstrating its viability across the world, said Democratic Rep. Paul McGowan of York.
‘‘What is it that has been discouraging us for so long to see the possibilities and the opportunity that we have as a state around the solar industry?’’