Senator Hobbins and Representative Hinck,
The Natural Resources Council of Maine appreciates this opportunity to testify on this important legislation. We commend the Governor’s Ocean Energy Task Force and its chairs for their considerable and important work. We support the broad and bold vision this legislation presents for a fundamental shift to renewable energy for Maine and the region. The committee is very familiar with the staggering energy challenges we face: energy insecurity from overreliance on imported fossil fuels; economic hardship from chaotic energy prices; environmental, economic and social disruption as a result of global climate change. Confronting these challenges over the next several decades will require fundamental structural change in how we generate and use energy. If we hope to reduce global warming pollution by 80% by 2050, then we will likely need to have 70-80% renewable power in the New England portfolio. The vision in this bill anticipates and heads us in the right direction of such a future.
Herein lies an incredible opportunity for Maine. Offshore energy, especially offshore wind energy, is still an immature technology. By moving proactively to establish guidelines, incentives and goals for the development of offshore energy, Maine is positioning itself to lead this industry—and reap the economic benefits of doing so—at a critical early moment. This opportunity is similar to other opportunities for Maine to use clean energy investments and policies as a spring board to reinvigorate our economy, whether through energy efficiency, distributed generation or grid-scale onshore wind. Several estimates indicate Maine already has over 2000 energy efficiency jobs, and onshore wind development to date has already brought $100 million in direct investments in our state.
Because full deployment of offshore wind power in Maine a decade or more away, the gains for early leaders are potentially large—and the uncertainty about its viability is also significant. We must proceed proactively but not blindly, either by establishing risky policies or by putting inappropriate confidence in the outcome. NRCM wishes to offer observations and suggestions in four areas that we encourage the committee to consider seriously:
1. Transmission policy (Part A)
2. Electrification of other sectors (Part A)
3. Protection of coastal and ocean habitat (Parts D & E)
4. Expedited permitting (Parts D & E)
NRCM recognizes that large-scale renewable energy development is likely to require significant transmission solutions. We support the consideration of state renewable generation goals—specifically wind generation goals—in determinations of public necessity. If the Public Utilities Commission is to include such consideration we see no reason to limit it to wind power in coastal waters. We remind the committee that we are still a long way away from meeting our onshore wind goals, and transmission constraints may yet impede our success in that area. Furthermore, failure to make further progress with onshore wind power will likely hinder the state’s position with regard to later offshore wind development.
We also believe such consideration should not undermine the consideration of non-transmission alternatives, which become especially important to constrain costs as we enter into a period which may bring many more transmission proposals. (As such we support the testimony on this issue by Environment Northeast.)
Electrification of other sectors
A central premise of the Task Force’s work was the use of very large renewable electricity resources to provide energy to sectors not currently reliant on electricity—namely heating and vehicles. This too is an audacious vision, with some important uncertainty as well. Electric heat pumps may be very efficient and reduce energy costs for consumers, or they may not—depending not only on the technology but also energy prices and specific circumstances of each application. To the extent that heat pumps may be a cost-effective heating system alternative, we suggest you allow the Efficiency Maine Trust, operating within existing law, to assess them and provide appropriate incentives and guidelines. We also strongly believe it is inappropriate to designate in law a preferred heating technology, and to assert benefits which are not yet proven. As such we suggest the following wording changes:
C. Renewable energy resources within the State, particularly those in its coastal waters, have the potential to produce electricity needed to convert the State’s homes and businesses from oil heat and liquid petroleum fuels to alternative heating technologies and replace petroleum-fueled motor vehicles with electric motor vehicles. Electrification of heating and transportation has the potential to increase the State’s energy independence, help to stabilize total residential and commercial energy bills and reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
3. Transition to more efficient energy sources for home heating and transportation. The Legislature finds that replacement of motor vehicles and conversion of residential and commercial heating systems in previously weatherized structures to more efficient energy sources, including but not limited to those which use electricity, furthers state goals regarding energy independence and reduction of overall energy costs and greenhouse gas emissions and furthers the State’s ocean and other renewable energy resources goals, including those established in section 3404, subsection 2.
We recognize that heat pumps (and electric vehicles) are included in this legislation not simply because they may be inherently cost-effective and reduce energy costs and associated emissions, but because they could potentially support (i.e. increase demand for) large-scale renewable power generation. This dynamic possibility is more complicated than assessing cost-effectiveness of a technology and trying to transform markets to adopt it. The Task Force began consideration of this possibility, but this analysis remains incomplete. The heating conversion program in Section A-8 proposes the program before we fully understand the implications. What, for example, is the consequence of large-scale electrification a decade before large-scale offshore power is available? Recognizing that the Department of Environmental Protection has limited experience with heating technologies and programs, and the Efficiency Maine Trust is not a think tank or an energy policy shop, we invite the committee to consider an approach for Sections A-8 and A-9 that relies on multiple state entities to further study the issue of electrification and offshore renewables, and propose proactive strategies which do not create undue risk.
Protection of other coastal and ocean habitat
NRCM supports the development of offshore energy resources which do not unduly damage coastal or ocean habitat and other natural resources. It is important that the responsibility for environmental permitting be clearly assigned within state government, and that fundamental environmental protections should not be undermined in the pursuit of clean energy.
Given the complexity of this bill we do not have a comprehensive reaction to the environmental protections that this bill offers or modifies. We did identify one specific concern, occurring in the first instance regarding “community-based offshore wind projects”. While we do not fully understand the nature or feasibility of such projects, we are concerned that the bill provides a significant loophole for the environmental permitting of projects which, were they located on land, would likely trigger full review. Section D-4 exempts such projects from basic environmental standards if “review and findings” are required through the Bureau of Public Lands (BPL) leasing arrangements. An even bigger loophole is created in Section E-7, where consideration of impacts on scenic character and existing uses is waived if “review is required” by BPL. This exempts projects from review even under the more narrow review standards for expedited development written for onshore wind. These exemptions as written do not require that review to be “equivalent”; and, in any case, it is highly unlikely that BPL would be able to conduct an equivalent environmental review as the Land Use Regulation Commission (LURC) and/or DEP. We therefore recommend striking these two sentences.
This bill extends most of the provisions of expedited onshore wind development to offshore energy development. NRCM recognizes the rationale for such an approach, but encourages the Committee to proceed cautiously and actively examine the core components of such an approach. Specifically Part E of the bill removes some jurisdiction of the Board of Environmental Protection; expedites legal appeals of permitting decisions; and changes the standard for impacts on scenic character and related existing uses. We support the need to consider scenic impacts from wind power with standards that recognize the inherent visibility of wind turbines. In particular, we believe it is important for the Committee to take note of the “scenic resources of statewide significance” along the coast that are listed in law and rules by the State Planning Office (SPO) and which will be considered under the scenic review standard. NRCM anticipates conducting an initial review of resources listed by SPO in the coming days.
In conclusion NRCM strongly supports the goal of this legislation to foster ambitious renewable energy development in a sustainable and responsible way. We believe it is imperative for Maine to look proactively to a future with a much greater reliance on clean energy, and also to make careful and strategic choices along the path toward that future. We encourage the committee to take the necessary steps to improve certain portions of the legislation, and to pass it as amended.