Hammering out Maine’s Climate Action Plan: Deep Dive into the BIH Working Group Recommendations

Maine’s Climate Action plan is being hammered out this year by the Maine Climate Council, convened by Gov. Janet Mills. The Climate Action Plan will be a roadmap to achieving Maine’s goals of reaching 45% greenhouse gas emissions reductions by 2030, and at least 80% by 2050. This blog takes you on a deep dive into the process of creating recommendations for the Action Plan, particularly for the Buildings, Infrastructure, and Housing Working Group. You can access more of the recommendations here.

In May, despite the coronavirus, the Acadia Center and its partners convened a (virtual) meeting of more than 400 people, including dozens of environmental, labor, and public health organizations, to learn about how the Climate Action Plan will be created. The webinar, titled “The Maine Climate Council: Everything You Need to Know” was hosted by over 30 entities dedicated to reducing carbon pollution and equitably transitioning Maine’s economy to clean, renewable energy. Acadia Center joined its partners to call for action that strengthens the economy, creates well-paying jobs, improves public health, and ensures equitable distribution of investments, benefits, and opportunities. The full webinar can be found at this link.

Speakers at the webinar demanded a Climate Action Plan with concrete legislative and regulatory actions to mitigate and adapt to climate change. Clear implementation timelines and targets are also essential. Acadia Center has been working individually and with its coalition partners to influence policy strategies being developed across seven working groups of the Maine Climate Council. These working groups have been created to tackle the topics of coastal and marine issues; community resilience planning, public health, and emergency management; electricity and utility innovation; natural and working lands; and transportation. The working group members include businesses, legislators, nonprofits and foundations, scientific and academic experts, state and local governments, and youth representatives, each of which provide a different perspective on the issues. In their decision-making process, working group members considered costs and benefits; impacts on low-income, senior, and rural residences; funding and financing mechanisms; and economic and workforce results. During the webinar, Jeff Marks of Acadia Center presented the results of the Buildings, Infrastructure, and Housing (BIH) Working Group.

Why is the buildings and infrastructure sector so important to Maine’s climate goals? In Maine, this sector comprises 39% of total greenhouse gas emissions, with the residential sector the second highest carbon-emitter overall at 19% of the state’s emissions (transportation is first at 54%). Maine also has some of the oldest building stock in the country (56% of Maine homes were built before 1980) and the highest reliance on fossil fuels for heating. Sixty percent of homes still heat with oil, and 19% with natural gas or propane.

The BIH Working Group moved forward strategies that lead to:

  • Cleaner industrial processes;
  • Clean heating and cooling systems;
  • Enhanced resilience to extreme weather;
  • Improved efficiency, comfort, and safety in existing buildings;
  • Low global-warming-potential building materials;
  • Net-zero, renewable-ready building codes;
  • Increased use of Maine wood products in building materials; and
  • Reduced energy costs

Acadia Center outlined six strategies to reduce emissions in buildings, infrastructure, and housing:

1. Improve the design and construction of new buildings through steadily and more stringent building codes, increased compliance and enforcement, and focus on both operational and embodied carbon.
2. Transition to cleaner heating and cooling, especially high-efficiency space and water heat pumps.
3. Enhance the efficiency and resiliency of existing building envelopes, including audits, deep retrofits, and weatherization.
4. Lead by example in publicly funded buildings, including affordable housing, government buildings, and schools.
5. Accelerate the decarbonization of industrial processes, including overcoming limited funding for industrial efficiency, combined heat and power, and microgrids.
6. Modernize and stabilize the electricity grid, including ways to meet new demand in parallel with beneficial electrification, decarbonization, electric vehicles, and authorizing state agencies to consider climate mandates in their regulatory processes and decisions.

The Working Groups submitted their recommendations to the Maine Climate Council in June 2020, with a final Climate Action Plan due in December 2020.

In addition, Acadia Center was part of an open letter calling on the Maine Climate Council to strategically prioritize specific recommendations – read the details here on our website.

Do you want to share your opinions with the Council? Fill out this survey on the Council’s website to share your thoughts!

Commentary: Maine’s renewable-energy industry gets a double shot in the arm

Opinion

Major new solar and offshore wind projects help position us as a hub to start, grow and maintain energy businesses.

Maine has incredible natural energy resources that can and should be an engine of its economy. New solar and offshore wind projects help position Maine as a hub to start, grow and maintain energy businesses in a global market. This week, Maine put out the welcome mat and opened the door to being a leader in clean energy.

First, two solar development companies on both sides of the Atlantic joined forces to advance projects to generate 350 megawatts of renewable energy capacity across eight Maine communities. The international partnership between European Union-based BNRG Renewables and Portland’s Dirigo Solar LLC is moving forward with large-scale solar projects to produce enough electricity to power 78,000 homes.

The next day, a $100 million joint venture publicly emerged to develop floating offshore wind technology off the coast of Maine, potentially bringing tremendous economic, energy and environmental benefits to Maine’s coastal regions and the state. The public-private partnership includes Maine’s flagship educational institution, the University of Maine, and New England Aqua Ventus LLC, a collaboration between technology giant Mitsubishi Corp. and the second largest offshore wind company in the world, RWE Renewables. According to a joint statement by Sens. Susan Collins and Angus King and Reps. Chellie Pingree and Jared Golden: “Maine’s offshore wind resource potential is 36 times greater than the state’s electricity demand, making this project so significant for Maine’s clean energy future.”

Read the full Op-Ed in the Portland Press Herald here.

Stop investing in natural gas. Invest more in renewable energy.

Opinion

With increasing renewable energy mandates in almost every New England state and growing amounts of imported power, there is only so much of the energy pie left for natural gas. Ten years ago, some might have called natural gas a “bridge fuel.” But it’s 2020. A better analogy is that we’re already halfway across the river.

That’s based on the results of a recent study from Acadia Center, The Declining Role of Natural Gas Power in New England. It shows that new natural gas power plants like NTE Energy’s proposed plant near Killingly — and the pipelines to supply them — are going to be hard to justify.

My colleagues and I who wrote the report question the value and economic rationale for additional gas plants, with our scenarios suggesting that by the end of the decade, natural gas would only be needed to meet about a quarter of the demand that it does now.

We looked at two scenarios: continued expansion of natural gas supply and generation capacity, and no additional investment in gas infrastructure. Both show similar reductions in the amount of natural gas-fired electricity, leading eventually to the region’s gas power plants being used at less than 10% of their capacity by the end of this decade.

Read the full Op-Ed at The Hartford Courant here.