By Portland Press Herald, The Editorial Board
In announcing her commitment to fighting climate change, Gov. Mills made clear she would not wait around for one big legislative package.
Mills committed the state to move to 100 percent renewable energy by 2050 in her Feb. 28 speech to the Environmental & Energy Technology Council of Maine. But she didn’t limit herself to any particular tactic.
“Things we can do administratively, we’ll do it,” she told reporters after the speech. “Things that we can do through Efficiency Maine Trust, we’ll do it. Things that we can implement through the universities’ research and development, we’ll do it. Executive orders, we’ll do it.”
That flexibility is important in facing a problem as big and as multi-faceted as climate change. At some point, the state should commit to public infrastructure investment to mitigate the impacts of rising sea levels, such as a $50 million bond issue proposed by Rep. Michael Brennan, D-Portland. But until then, there are other ways to seize opportunities to reduce its carbon footprint.
One of those opportunities taken was revealed last week in documents filed with the Public Utilities Commission regarding the New England Clean Energy Connect project, a transmission line in western Maine that would bring hydroelectric power from Canada to the regional grid.
According to the filing, Mills got involved in the negotiations right after her election, and through her representatives, put a priority on achieving the state’s climate goals. Mills noted that only 9 percent of the state’s carbon emissions come from generating electricity, but half come from transportation. So the companies pushing the plan agreed to pay $15 million to build a network of charging stations for electric vehicles. Because 60 percent of Maine homes heat with oil, Mills extracted another $15 million to put high-efficiency electric heat pumps in low-income homes, which would not only reduce their carbon emissions, but also lower their heating bills.
And added to the balance sheet is that Maine ratepayers would not have to pay for any of these improvements. The entire cost of the project would be borne by Massachusetts ratepayers, who are buying the Canadian power.
The transmission line would need approval from the PUC and environmental regulators before it can be built. It remains a controversial project, but there shouldn’t be any debate that the state’s negotiators were able to exchange their support for progress on important climate goals.
Not every advance in this arena will come without a price tag, but Mills has shown that she will jump on opportunities as they arise.
After eight years of inaction, that’s good to know.