Quantify the Impacts vs the Benefits
Honorable members of the Maine Climate Council:
Friends of Maine's Mountains is the non-governmental organization in Maine that opposes mountain-based wind energy on the basis that the meager benefits are dwarfed by the massive impacts. FMM thanks Governor Mills, and it congratulates you for joining the noble pursuit of her zero carbon by 2045 goal.
The job is huge and the timeline long, so rather than watch you re-till old ground, FMM submits the following comment in hope that you can better hit the ground running.
Know Maine's CO2 Sources For most of the last decade policymakers have heavily focused on climate “solutions” in the electricity sector, which is a tiny slice of Maine's carbon footprint pie. This data is readily available, and can appropriately guide you to "problems" before you propose "solutions." So get this data immediately.
Quantify Carbon Sequestration Early Like the aforementioned baseline information on CO2 sources, sequestration needs to be quantified. Once you reliably know this number, you might conclude immediately that Maine is carbon neutral today, or better, a carbon sink. This calculation can heavily influence your entire project.
Focus on how to Electrify Transportation and Heating This is where the CO2 is, the low hanging fruit, the ROI. Because Maine's electricity is among America's cleanest, converting from fossil fuels to electricity in heating and driving is the great opportunity to reduce Maine's CO2. However, as discussed below, electrifying Maine’s energy consumption will necessitate more generation than one might imagine.
Know our Best-Case Scenario From the start of this journey and throughout it, you need to be mindful of the destination, the best possible outcome. If Maine’s entire electricity sector converted to zero-carbon, it would reduce 1.4 MMT of CO2 annually. Subtracted from the 36,000 MMT of global CO2, that would result in a 4/1000ths of one percent reduction.
If Maine could decarbonize its entire 16 MMT of CO2 from all energy sectors, it would result in a 3/100ths of one percent global CO2 reduction.
If complete decarbonization of Maine electricity were akin to prescribing a zero-calorie diet upon a 170 pound person, and if the person’s weight were equated to global CO2, then the diet would promise that person weight loss totaling 1/10th of one ounce. If that diet could be equated to complete decarbonization of all Maine energy sectors, the global CO2 reduction (weight loss) would total one ounce.
So before we delude ourselves into thinking Maine can make some significant difference in a world where the EIA predicts energy consumption will increase nearly 50% by 2050, where developing nations are building coal plants and burning fossil fuels at breakneck pace to power burgeoning economies, we need to keep this perspective on how much good we can achieve even in a best-case scenario.
This is not to assert that Maine should not do its part; more that Maine is doing its part better than most, that Maine’s part is tiny, and our expectations of maximum global benefit should be factored inextricably against the amount of maximum local impact we are willing to tolerate in exchange for that benefit.
Use Common Denominators Discussions about energy policy typically are rife with conflation. There are numerous sectors and silos that rarely need to be lumped together. Energy consumption in Maine totals about 400 Trillion Brittish Thermal Units (BTU) per year. That's across all sectors, like Transportation, Industry, Heating, Electricity Generation, etc. BTUs come from the sun, wind, gasoline, hydro power… These BTU numbers are also readily available to you, and as with the CO2 numbers, your work needs to be guided by them.
How Much Electricity Would we need to Electrify Maine’s Energy? On most days, if we could somehow get a dedicated connection to it, the Seabrook power plant could now serve as Maine’s sole source of electricity. To electrify all 400 trillion BTUs of consumed energy in Maine would require the equivalent of 34 Seabrook power plants, or 3500 Mars Hill Wind projects. Not to mention unfathomable transmission buildup. There would not be enough real estate in Maine to produce all 400 trillion BTUs of energy from solar panels. However we get to decarbonization, are we willing/able to go there for 3/100ths of one percent global CO2 reduction?
We Don't Have Time or Money for "All of the Above" Energy Approach Nobody shops for a car or groceries or medicine by buying everything offered. Maine cannot afford the time nor the cost of granting all comers a guaranteed piece of the market. We need to focus on what works. Maine now hosts about 400 massive wind turbines, almost all built to satisfy arbitrary mandated procurements from southern New England. While some people view these skyscrapers as symbols of “doing the right thing,” the fact remains that the needle barely moves when the wind is blowing. The cumulative impact of the blight was unforeseen when the red carpet was rolled out ten years ago in the Expedited Wind Law, and now we realize we would need hundreds of thousands of turbines to register a recordable climate benefit. Maine has exceeded our maximum capacity for these sprawling projects. There is no more room. Our fabled Quality of Place is threatened by the industrialization of iconic remote areas.
Don’t Ruin Maine to Save the Planet Mainers are increasingly resisting the industrialization of our Maine Brand, our signature Quality of Place. Recently Maine has become engulfed in furor about a power line for Massachusetts that proposes 800 utility poles, 10 stories tall, nestled into the woods. Imagine the uproar over the 2500 Mars Hill wind turbines at 40 stories tall, (plus transmission) that would be required for an equivalent delivery of energy, albeit unpredictably. Now imagine the uproar - or the utter lunacy - if Maine tried to build 100,000 Mars Hill wind turbines, which is about what it would take to electrify all of Maine's 400 trillion BTUs.
Have Realistic Expectations Solar power is good, but it is not a "solution." Using solar panels to reduce New England CO2 emissions to the level of the single controversial power line would require 150 million solar panels. (Maine now has about 80,000 solar panels. Massachusetts has 800,000.) A bill in the legislature last year proposed solar panels on schools. Neat idea. But what would it achieve, and at what cost? Assuming Maine’s 620 public schools each installed 100 solar panels, they would together add 15.5 megawatts to the 4000+ megawatts of overall generation capacity in Maine, and to the 35,000 megawatts of overall capacity in New England. Assuming a generous 15% capacity factor, this new school-solar generation would be about 20,400 megawatthours, which would be 16/1000ths of one percent of New England’s 125,000,000 megawatthours. The CO2 ROI from this $62 million investment would obviously be too small to measure. Again, a noble and symbolic pursuit, but essentially inconsequential.
"Renewable" is an Antiquated Term FMM submits four pragmatic policy recommendations for the Climate Council to discuss and quantify. These ideas open the door for significant CO2 reduction and electrification, so they should find their way into your eventual policy recommendations.
A. Eliminate any reference to “new” renewable or capacity resource in Maine law.
B. Eliminate the size limit for renewable generation.
C. Like Connecticut, define “zero-carbon” or “low carbon” resource and substitute it for “renewable.”
D. Start seriously and urgently planning for sustainable clean electricity that is scalable, namely nuclear.
Best of luck to you.
Bradbury Blake, President