Maine Can Lead New England into a Clean Energy Future

Ben Tettlebaum

Right now, Maine – along with the rest of New England – is shaping its energy future. In the next month, the Maine Public Utilities Commission (PUC) will decide whether the state becomes the first in the region to enter into a contract for a massive, polluting natural gas pipeline.

In a proceeding that has taken more than two years, CLF has been the lone voice of reason fighting this ill-conceived bid for what could become a 15- to 20-year, billion-dollar handout to the natural gas pipeline industry. (And that’s just in Maine – other New England states are also caught up in similar schemes.)

Who would pay for this colossal, climate-destroying new pipeline? Anyone who pays an electricity bill every month. In other words, you and me.

That’s why CLF is battling to ensure that Maine instead becomes the first state in New England to reject the natural gas industry’s play to keep our region addicted to dirty fossil fuels.

One Down, Two to Go

The downfall last month of oil-and-gas giant Kinder Morgan’s huge, trumped-up natural gas pipeline proposal muted industry cries about the dire need for more pipeline capacity into New England. Kinder Morgan’s project, however, was only one of three pipeline proposals now before the Maine PUC. Two more remain in play: a massive new pipeline proposed by Spectra Energy called the Access Northeast (ANE) project, and another from Portland Natural Gas Transmission System.

The market failure of Kinder Morgan’s pipeline project should have squelched any doubt about whether our region needs a gigantic new pipeline to solve a faux natural gas shortage. Unfortunately, the project’s demise has only strengthened calls from pipeline supporters for more natural gas funded on the backs of electricity customers.

Industry Wants to Solve a Problem that Doesn’t Exist

As my colleague Greg Cunningham has explained (and despite what the gas industry wants us to believe), there is no problem with gas supply or pipeline capacity in New England. The real issue is properly framed as difficulties with delivering natural gas to our homes and businesses on the few coldest days each year.

Trying to solve this issue by building big new pipelines would flood New England’s market with natural gas for which demand does not exist. Instead, we can use existing liquefied natural gas (LNG) infrastructure to meet our electricity needs on those rare winter days when gas use for heating and power peaks. Forgoing the big pipeline approach will avoid a long-term commitment to polluting petroleum and render savings that can be applied to clean alternatives.

This critical shift in the way that Maine and the region generate energy, by investing in renewables like wind and solar rather than gas and oil, will lead not only to cheaper electricity bills in the long run, but also a cleaner, healthier environment for us all.

Why Maine Should Reject a Dirty, Costly Pipeline

We can list many reasons why the Maine PUC should say no to spending even a dime of consumer money on a costly, oversized natural gas pipeline. Here are just a few:

  • The Maine PUC has commissioned multiple studies to determine whether the benefits of investing in a pipeline outweigh the costs. Every study, under every likely scenario, has concluded that the costs are too high.
  • Dire predictions of skyrocketing energy prices and intermittent blackouts following the winter of 2014 never materialized.
  • As CLF has been demonstrating for years, and as an independent study by the Massachusetts Attorney General confirms, the best bet for securing a safe, economical, and environmentally sustainable energy future is to invest in energy efficiency, demand response, and renewables.

Maine Should Be a True Leader and Reject a Radical Pipeline Expansion

It’s time we stop pretending that the “conservative” energy choice is to invest in gargantuan, greenhouse gas–spewing fossil fuel projects. There is nothing economically, socially, or environmentally conservative about spending billions of taxpayer dollars on a dinosaur industry bent on poisoning our air, water, soil, and climate. Locking Maine and New England into a single, risky, outdated fuel source simply makes no sense.

The LePage Administration claims the government shouldn’t pick winners and losers in the energy industry. In this instance, we couldn’t agree more. And subsidizing a natural gas pipeline would mean betting on a clear loser with consumer dollars.

Instead, Maine should become the first state in New England to reject all radical natural gas pipeline proposals. The Pine Tree State can then be a true leader, shepherding the region into a clean energy future.

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