Opinion: What About Us, As Mainers, Makes the Climate Transition Tough to Swallow

The “grid expansion rule,” unveiled a couple of days ago by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission is one of the most far-reaching energy policies to date, with implications not just for Maine but the entire nation.

This rule mandates that transmission operators – the people responsible for our biggest power lines, our “electricity transmission highways” – conduct and update long-term transmission planning over a 20-year horizon, anticipating future needs and involving states in planning, selecting and funding the projects that are elemental to Maine’s and the nation’s clean energy transition. Its objective is clear: facilitate the construction of transmission lines, enhance electricity movement between states, modernize the grid and allocate costs effectively.

This is why discussions like the one NECEC sponsored with ClimateWork Maine recently are so important. Mainers sat down to learn about and tackle the challenges of electrifying home heating and transportation, modernizing the grid and siting and permitting new clean energy sources. Getting all stakeholders on the same page about this transition is crucial in avoiding the worst impacts of a changing climate and ensuring energy security for future generations.

To make this transition possible, we need to strengthen our grid infrastructure by building more transmission lines, enhancing connectivity and increasing capacity to support electric vehicles, solar energy and heat pumps. Yet, as solar farms begin to dot our landscape and Maine pursues electricity generated from our Gulf’s strong winds, this seemingly rapid change can be jarring. This shock is leading to moratoriums on renewable energy projects across the state when we need these renewables to come online.

What about us, as Mainers, is making the climate transition tough to swallow? Is it our unique characteristics, such as a preference for local control, a dispersed rural population and skepticism about out-of-state investors? How do we overcome these obstacles? Let’s discuss some of the biggest we face.

One major obstacle is the belief that grid expansion benefits neighboring states more than Maine. Having transmission lines in Maine that connect to the regional grid that we are already a part of, New York, and even Canada is essential for transmitting renewable energy. It benefits Maine by making our grid more resilient and cost-effective. In addition, Maine’s strict permitting laws, such as our “Site Location of Development Law,” require project developers to meet high environmental and land use standards before permits are issued. These laws protect communities and the environment while supporting responsible development.

Another obstacle is Maine’s home rule status, which means that a single municipality can cause significant delays and, in turn, increase the costs of a state-wide project. Municipalities should take pride in their ability to shape their community, but they must also be aware that their choices may impact the state’s and region’s ability to meet climate goals that benefit us all.

As we envision a more sustainable grid, affordability is also a key concern and obstacle. We must ensure that utility customers’ costs remain manageable. Integrated grid planning, which balances reliability, sustainability and affordability, offers a holistic framework for achieving this goal.

To make meaningful progress, Maine lawmakers must prioritize grid expansion, work with industry stakeholders, regulatory bodies, and communities and embrace innovation. Navigating these challenges requires a pragmatic and forward-thinking approach. Prioritizing investments that serve multiple objectives – resilience, renewable integration and cost-efficiency – is key.

This can’t happen without education, discussion of the obstacles and full engagement with the public. Change is scary and Mainers are committed to the “way life should be.” That can mean feeling worried that the changes we see on the landscape will cause the loss of something we hold dear. Providing clear and accessible information and opportunities for public input and engagement can foster understanding and buy-in from communities.

Maine stands at a pivotal juncture in our energy evolution. The path ahead demands collaboration, innovation and a steadfast commitment to balancing environmental goals with economic realities. By harnessing the collective expertise of stakeholders, leveraging renewable opportunities and fostering regional cooperation, we can build the grid we need – a resilient, sustainable and affordable energy infrastructure that serves the needs of current and future generations.

Go back