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FMM questions wisdom of additional mandates

Friends of Maine’s Mountains (FMM) has expressed skepticism about an activist group’s plans for a ballot initiative that would place greater mandates on Maine utilities and their customers.

“We have not seen the specifics, but based on what was said at Environment Maine’s news conference this sounds like another well-intended but bad policy,” said Chris O’Neil of FMM.

Environment Maine announced Wednesday that they will begin gathering signatures for a 2012 referendum that would “control energy costs, create jobs and make Maine more energy independent by requiring electric utilities to invest in energy efficiency whenever it would reduce energy costs for ratepayers,” according to a Bangor Daily News report. O’Neil predicted that “the campaign will be all about jobs and getting off oil, but they won’t mention the facts that only one percent of our electricity comes from oil, and when electricity prices rise, jobs are lost.”

The apparent intent of the referendum is to double the existing mandate on the amount of renewable electricity utilities must purchase. O’Neil pointed out that Maine’s Renewable Portfolio Mandate is already the highest in the country, and that further limiting the sources of electricity could be bad for Maine’s environment and economy. “There is a presumption that each time a mountain ridge in Maine is destroyed by wind turbines, a coal plant in Ohio goes offline or ramps down. That simply does not happen. Wind power cannot replace base load power. So we are very cautious about how they plan to define ‘renewable’ in their ballot question.”

O’Neil said Friends of Maine’s Mountains advocates eliminating the state’s Renewable Portfolio Mandate altogether because “it is a feel-good policy which does far more harm than good.” He asserted that Maine has among the highest electric rates in the nation, and that Maine law chooses electric winners and losers, even among renewable resources. “Hydro is not considered renewable. Canadian hydro does not qualify. Existing hydro and biomass generators in Maine do not qualify. The law essentially mandates that ineffective, expensive, and sprawling wind projects get built, even though they are neither necessary nor useful. It is a silly state policy, and they apparently want to make it sillier.”

O’Neil said that an important issue will be how the new policy defines “renewable.” FMM’s position is that if Maine refuses to eliminate the Renewable Portfolio Mandate, it ought to redefine “renewable” to include viable sources like hydro and biomass, including Canadian hydro, which is subject to a de facto tariff under current law. “If government is going to tell us to buy renewable electricity, why not encourage us to buy the good stuff?” pondered O’Neil.

FMM says Environment Maine means well, but they shouldn’t mislead the people into thinking such a radical proposal solves any problems. 96% of the CO2 in the atmosphere is produced by nature, and only 4% is man-made. Less than 2% of CO2 comes from the generation of electricity. Scientists disagree on how much and whether wind power can reduce CO2. In the worst case scenario, studies say that wind power actually increases CO2 emissions when thermal generators run inefficiently. In the best case scenario, wind power would reduce CO2 on a 1:1 basis if it could replace thermal generation. Assuming the best case, or 1:1 scenario, if the entire world ever gets to deriving 20% of its electricity from wind power we will at best reduce CO2 from electric generation by 20%. “This translates to a total CO2 reduction of three tenths of one percent,” O’Neil said. “Not unlike removing a tablespoon of water from a swimming pool to keep it from overflowing. We can argue about whether it’s the wrong problem or the wrong solution, but it’s certainly wrong, regardless.”

FMM, which opposes building of unnecessary utility infrastructure, does support conservation measures, but the group sees red in the proposed law’s provision that would make utilities invest in those. “Again, we need details, but this smells terribly fishy to us,” O’Neil said. “These activists need to stop playing feel-good games with the serious business of Maine’s environment and economy, both of which could be jeopardized by such shallow policy.”

Friends of Maine’s Mountains 284 Main Street, Ste. 200, Wilton, Maine 04294 (207)-645-3699