Commentary: Five steps to Maine’s green COVID recovery

This article originally ran in the Portland Press Herald on February 10, 2021

By Peter Rothstein, NECEC President, and Fortunat Mueller, President and Co-founder of ReVision Energy

It doesn’t take much imagination to draw parallels between the COVID-19 pandemic and the climate crisis. Both crises present a global danger to our lives, threaten to disrupt our economy and disproportionately affect low-income communities and communities of color. But the pandemic has also shown that regional, national and international communities can respond quickly and meaningfully when a global crisis arises, and has woken us up to the urgent need to take action now on climate change.

Fortunately, the Northeast is on the road toward doing just that, thanks to strong climate and clean-energy commitments from states like Maine. By targeting emissions reductions and sourcing our energy from local, renewable resources like the sun, wind and trees, the Northeast can reduce pollution that endangers our health and environment, gain independence from outside sources of fuel and turn our states into economic winners by creating thousands of good local jobs.

At the Northeast Clean Energy Council, our more than 200 member companies are already doing the important work required to accelerate our region’s clean-energy transition. ReVision Energy, with locations in Liberty and Portland, is one of those members. In many ways, ReVision is a poster child for what’s possible: From its modest start as a solar hot water company with just a handful of employees, ReVision has grown into a regional clean-energy powerhouse with over 275 co-owners working in five offices across three states. As a 100 percent employee-owned certified B corporation, ReVision is committed to improving our communities and has pioneered an in-house apprentice training program to help build Maine’s future clean-energy workforce.

Businesses like ReVision and policymakers have worked hard to lay the groundwork for Maine’s clean energy transition, but there’s still work to be done. To build on this momentum, we see five goals that will drive Maine’s clean-energy economy forward:

First, aim high. We can’t afford to limit ourselves on clean energy. Maine must be ambitious about the scale and number of renewable projects that are brought into its energy system.

Second, make equity a priority. For too long, energy, infrastructure and environmental burdens have been disproportionately borne by low-income communities and communities of color. We have a chance to embed environmental justice principles into our future decisions so that all communities benefit from the clean-energy transition. But doing so demands intentional, deliberate and inclusive choices by policymakers and project developers.

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Third, accelerate the adoption of renewable energy and electrification by investing in a modern grid that will support our clean-energy future. Thanks to the leadership of Gov. Mills and the Legislature, 2019 was a landmark year for renewable-energy policy in Maine. Now, we need to ensure that neglected grid infrastructure and outdated rules don’t slow down the development of projects large and small – from solar, biomass and offshore and land-based wind, to the electrification of transportation, heating and industry.

Fourth, join the regional Transportation and Climate Initiative. Maine policymakers should embrace this opportunity to participate in a policy that will lower transportation emissions while spurring economic development and job creation, funding transportation infrastructure and improving public health.

Fifth, establish an energy storage roadmap for Maine. Energy storage technology poses a significant opportunity to build a more resilient, dynamic, cost-effective electricity system. Policymakers should follow the blueprint created by the Maine Energy Storage Commission in 2019 to build this important segment of the 21st-century grid.

Back in 2019, we applauded Gov. Mills when she became the first governor of Maine to speak before the U.N. about the climate crisis. There, she called on world leaders to do their part, saying, “Maine won’t wait” for climate action, and setting a goal for the state to reach carbon neutrality by 2045. To continue that leadership, Maine must address clean-energy challenges at a scale that matches the urgency of the moment. We have seen what’s possible when we’re faced with a global threat like the pandemic – now we must use that awareness and drive to make the 2020s a decade of clean energy and climate action.

On Wednesday, the Northeast Clean Energy Council and its members will be making this case to policymakers in Augusta during our annual Maine Clean Energy Day. We’ll bring together clean-energy business leaders, legislators and policymakers virtually to discuss the most pressing energy and climate policy issues facing the state, and show how Maine can achieve a thriving, equitable clean-energy economy.

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Peter Rothstein

Peter is the President of NECEC.