Energy innovation without government subsidy

In our haste to see everything now, the long view on important matters often is overlooked. From government programs to business goals, people in charge are pressured to achieve short-term results when a longer view is necessary and prudent. Energy is a convenient example.

Over the past few weeks, critical announcements around the world suggest that market forces are more successful at meeting our energy needs than mandates and edicts.

Royal Dutch Shell just announced that the giant oil company would need to adapt to lower oil prices, perhaps forever, as two of its core European market states (France and England) are legislating that automakers must build only electric vehicles by 2040 — or sooner in certain cities.

Swedish automaker Volvo announced that it would produce only hybrid and electric-powered cars starting in 2020 — just three years away. Many of the world’s premium automakers have aggressive build schedules for expensive electric vehicles. There appears to be a sweeping emphasis to compete with the American-built Tesla vehicles.

Closer to Hancock County, Central Maine Power has announced that it is submitting a bid to construct a transmission line expansion to supply Hydro-Quebec electric energy to meet Massachusetts’ renewable energy quotas. The $1-billion project would expand an existing power line in western Maine, connecting to already established grid infrastructure. Once complete, this funnel would help supply Maine with some of the least expensive, controllable energy source on the planet — water power.

Recent weeks also saw several large-scale solar projects approved or proposed for Maine. Cianbro will build a 57-acre solar farm in Pittsfield, creating a maximum 9.9 megawatts of power for CMP. This follows a solar farm constructed in Waterville for Colby College, plus a 22-acre solar field built in Madison. Waterville has plans for another solar farm — a 20-megawatt installation is slated for the retired landfill in that city — while investors are working with the town of Sanford for a 50-megawatt solar farm on the plains near Sanford Airport.

With the subsidies for wood-fired energy and expensive wind power farms drawing less and less support, there is an obvious shift to solar power. Energy companies recognize the need for greater electricity generation capacity. According to the International Energy Agency, less than 1 percent of the world’s energy is renewable solar- and wind-generated power.

Society wants the benefits promised by electric cars and solar-supplied residences. But alternative energy investors, rightly seeking to make a profit, have the most skin in the game — not taxpayers, not ratepayers. There have been far too many instances of governments using the taxpayer pots of gold while attempting to pick winners and losers. Let the marketplace and consumers decide.

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