We should be very concerned about the future dangers and cost of continuing to burn fossil fuel, such as natural gas, to generate electricity when it is possible to get our electricity from other sources. We in Maine need to do our part to stop burning fossil fuel just as others should be doing elsewhere. We should avoid using fossil fuel to generate energy whenever we can. This will, in the long run, save money and be good for the corporations that make paper and other products as well as everybody else.

Maine produces a lot of electricity from hydroelectric dams, wind turbines, and solar panels mounted on the ground and on roofs of buildings. Large collections of ground-mounted panels, known as solar farms, can provide electricity particularly cheaply due to economies of scale. Some of our neighboring states to the south do a lot of this.

One of the problems of using fossil fuel in Maine is that we don’t have any coal, petroleum or natural gas in the ground here. It costs a lot of money to build pipelines to bring fossil fuel to Maine or bring it here on railroad cars or trucks.

Why not generate the electricity we need here in Maine using solar panels? We could place the solar panels near where electricity is needed and save on the cost of building and maintaining transmission lines.

The Public Utilities Commission recently funded a major study to see if this would make sense where new transmission lines might otherwise have been needed at Boothbay Harbor. The pilot study showed that investment in local generation, plus energy efficiency, was cheaper than building a new transmission line along the peninsula to serve a mostly summer population for a few months. This concept might be used in other places where demand for electricity is growing.

But the sun doesn’t shine all the time, and we need electricity when the sun is not shining. A number of options are available for handling this challenge. We could depend on electricity storage, demand management, or electricity generated by wind and hydroelectric dams, to name a few. One way to do this would be to hold back water behind a hydroelectric dam when the sun is shining and let it flow through the generator when the sun is not shining. In some cases water might be pumped from below a dam to above a dam when there is a surplus of other low-cost electricity available. This has been done in some other states.

To the extent feasible, Maine should generate electricity that we need in Maine from our own sources, none of this from fossil fuel. This would mean that we won’t be sending Maine dollars out of state to build pipelines to import fuel. We won’t import electricity made from fossil fuel in other states. Jobs will be generated in Maine to install and maintain solar panels. However, in some cases it might make sense to import some electricity from a generator located in another state very close to where it is needed in Maine.

We should encourage homeowners and business owners to put solar panels on their roofs and on ground-mounted panels, using a net metering system the same as, or much like, what we have been using. When an owner of solar panels generates more electricity than he needs, it can be sent through the wires elsewhere to where it is needed. When the sun is not shining, the owner can use electricity generated by other methods, accessing it through the same wires.

Climate change is a real problem. The oceans are rising and will soon flood buildings built near the ocean. The ocean is getting warmer, a less desirable habitat for sea creatures that produce income for fishermen. The air is getting warmer. We are getting less snow and rain. This has affected the ability of many farmers to grow food and hay that they need. Some wells have gone dry. Greatly reducing the amount of fossil fuel being used to generate electricity used in Maine will help reduce the adverse effects of climate change.

Elery Keene is the team leader for the Sustain Mid Maine Coalition Public Policy Team. He also serves on the board of directors and is a member of the Energy Team, the Education and Community Outreach Team, and the Transportation Team.

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