Maine has 30 percent more sun than Germany, which gets 7 percent of its electricity from solar power.
By George Smith
Kennebec Journal column
“Here comes the sun; here comes the sun; and I say it’s all right.” Well, maybe not.
This Beatles song is right about the sun. It shines in Maine more than in Germany, where solar power is all the rage. And while we could power Maine with the sun, too many of our leaders don’t seem to understand this.
A bill sponsored by Rep. Sara Gideon, D-Freeport, and co-sponsored by Rep. Richard Malaby, R-Hancock, and Sen. Tom Saviello, R-Wilton, appears headed for defeat. The bill would require electricity suppliers to include new solar generation in their power portfolios, gradually increasing the share of solar power to 2.5 percent of the utilities’ renewable energy portfolios by 2012. This is really a very modest goal. Gideon’s bill also would create renewable energy credits for solar power, a very important step.
Dylan Voorhees, clean energy director at the Natural Resources Council of Maine, told reporter Tux Turkel that, “Gideon’s proposal could lead to more than 7,000 home and 3,000 business installations, as well as more than 2,000 jobs in the solar industry by 2021.” And a new study by the Public Utilities Commission reported that use of energy from the sun offers long-term benefits for the state.
Virtually everyone gets this except for our political leaders in Augusta.
In Germany, nearly 7 percent of the country’s electricity comes from solar power. The country’s solar power stations were producing 38,555 megawatts at the end of March, with a goal of increasing renewable energy’s electrical contribution from 35 percent by 2020 to 50 percent by 2030, and to an astonishing 80 percent of the country’s electricity by 2050.
China, Japan, Italy and Great Britain also are encouraging solar power. In Great Britain, solar power capacity doubled last year, with 80,000 new installations including thousands of large-scale commercial installations. The UK has 530,000 solar installations, of which 510,000 are small-scale domestic ones. And solar installations are predicted to double this year.
Yet Maine ignores the potential power of the sun. Many states offer tax incentives for solar power. We do not. The governor strongly opposes them, so we’re unlikely to get them. And we’ll continue to lag the nation and the world in renewable energy generation. Apparently, we will continue to focus on nonrenewable, expensive sources of energy such as oil and natural gas.
A large solar project at the old Navy radar site in Hancock County that would supply electricity to the Jackson Laboratory in Bar Harbor will move forward only if Gideon’s bill is enacted. Kim Kenway, president of Gouldsboro Solar, the developer, told Turkel, “The reason we don’t have any large-scale projects in Maine is because we don’t have a solar renewable energy credit program.”
Researching this column, I also learned that solar panels on our rooftops could provide 24 percent of all electricity in Maine. And we’ve got solar leaders right here in central Maine. In 2007, the largest solar array up to that time was installed at Maple Hill Farm in Hallowell. In 2011, the new Hannaford’s store in Augusta installed an even larger solar array on its roof.
Maine’s ReVision Energy is our leading installer of solar power panels, and I checked its website for updated information about solar power in Maine. Here’s what I learned.
• “Maine and New Hampshire each get 30 percent more sunshine per year than Germany, the world leader in solar energy installations. If we converted 0.1 percent of our land mass to solar panels, we would have enough free energy to meet 100 percent of our electricity needs.
• “The cost for solar electric systems has dropped by more than 50 percent over the past five years.
• “Maine, New Hampshire, and Massachusetts are among the most oil-dependent states in the United States. Solar energy enables us to reduce dependence on destructive fossil fuels, while keeping more money in our local economies.”
For the life of me, I don’t understand why our governor and Legislature don’t embrace solar power and do everything in their power to encourage it here. The last point made on ReVision’s website really hit home with me: “Solar energy is one of the best investments you can make for your children and grandchildren. If we do not begin solving our energy problems today, we will leave them a legacy of fossil energy pollution, scarcity and geopolitical conflict.”
The Beatles’ song, near the end, goes like this: “Sun, sun, sun, here it comes.” Let’s hope so.