There is no perfect energy project

The people have spoken, with a resounding “NO” to the “Clean Energy Corridor,” but Central Maine Power? The company, its parents, affiliates, partners, heirs and assigns got up the next morning and went back to work on the transmission line.

Up until the Nov. 2 vote, the company could claim to be working in good faith to develop a transmission line to deliver renewable Canadian energy to our friends and neighbors in Massachusetts. Permits in hand, CMP forged on. Now its path is not so clear.

The campaign to have or to have not a transmission line incurred a substantial cost in a highly politicized debate. Proponents of the corridor outspent opponents by about three and a half times, yet the opposition prevailed. The Bangor Daily News put total spending at about $237 per vote, amounting to a total campaign tab of $94 million.

That is more than the 2020 expenditures budgeted for the departments of Agriculture and Marine Resources, combined. More than the budgets for Child Development Services and Economic and Community Development, combined. More than that year’s budget for highway and bridge improvement. That level of campaign spending makes Maine the top state for spending on a state ballot campaign in recent years (BDN). Maine!

We are struggling with “no means no,” as those with power, physical, financial or political, are unwilling to take no for an answer. “No” apparently means keep on keeping on and may the best man, woman or project win. That means the spending spree does not end with Election Day. The focus will shift from persuading voters to filing or defending court cases to implement or refute the decision at the polls.

Energy generation, transmission and distribution involve costly battles over land use. Nuclear power plants, hydropower dams, wind farms and solar farms have their detractors, often people located closest to proposed power generation sites. The energy industry has deep pockets, and the stakes are high enough that they are prepared to go to the wall in defense of their projects, be they environmentally sound or not.

Wind power off Martha’s Vineyard, Nantucket and western New York state, hydroelectric power from Quebec and solar power in Vermont, California and Rhode Island are only a few examples of renewable energy projects involved in long and costly litigation. The American Bird Conservancy has sued the state of New York for speeding up the process for permitting renewable energy projects. Fishermen are challenging offshore wind projects. The Mohave ground squirrel brought a solar project to a halt.

This is not to say that projects with the laudable goal of increasing the availability of renewable energy should not be subject to scrutiny, but the barrage of litigation over so many renewable energy proposals has become a serious impediment to meeting national climate change mitigation goals. Legal challenges to project proposals also deter potential funders from coming forward.

Talk about mixed messages. We want renewable energy but not here, not now, not this kind. We have to reduce our reliance on fossil fuels, but we won’t support a project to replace them. We won’t support a pipeline to get renewable fuel to neighboring Massachusetts, but we get plenty of our own power from out-of-state sources.

With no in-state fossil fuel sources, Maine depends on importing fuel from away. Suppose those supplying our state said heck no, we’re not going to allow a pipeline that delivers to another state?

A 2020 “Maine Energy Overview” by University of Maine authors Mariya Pominova and Jonathan Rubin found that “Maine’s households have the highest dependence on oil in the U.S.,” with two-thirds of homes using fuel oil as their primary heating source. The good news? Seventy-five percent of electricity generation in Maine comes from renewables. In a cold climate, moving to renewable sources for home heating is essential to meeting climate change goals, but as we have seen, development of renewable sources is fraught with challenges.

Per capita, Mainers consume the most energy in New England, though our consumption is decreasing. The transportation sector is by far the leading consumer of non-renewables and its share of energy consumption is increasing. The industrial sector has made the most progress in decreasing energy consumption, but is that due to reduced energy use or a shrinking industrial sector?

The biggest impact on nonrenewable energy consumption in Maine would be a reduction in fossil fuel use in the transportation sector. In a large state with far-flung communities, that is not easily accomplished. As electric vehicles increase in numbers and state and private vendors install more EV charging stations, progress will be made.

Supporting renewables in theory but not in practice will not reduce the peril of climate change. Let’s not let perfect be the enemy of good.

Jill Goldthwait

Jill Goldthwait

Jill Goldthwait worked for 25 years as a registered nurse at Mount Desert Island Hospital. She has served as a Bar Harbor town councilor and as an independent state senator from Hancock County.

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