The governor’s office recently released a new Maine Climate Action Plan to combat climate change. The plan commits to reducing greenhouse-gas emissions 45 percent by 2030 and 80 percent by 2050, while achieving carbon neutrality by 2045. The plan also prepares communities for the impacts of climate change, including rising sea levels, droughts and wildfires. The plan would ultimately cost Mainers billions of dollars in public and private investments.

I applaud this effort and agree with the premise that there is a strong scientific basis for global warming.

Conspicuously absent from the action plan is any mention of the word “nuclear,” not even in passing. This is ironic in view of the fact that nuclear is America’s largest source of clean air energy, providing nearly 55 percent of our carbon-free electricity. In Connecticut, that contribution rises to 98 percent. However, existing Maine law makes it unlikely that any nuclear power plant would be built any time soon.

Maine’s Renewable Portfolio Standard establishes the percentage of electricity that an electricity supplier is required to provide from renewable resources, with a goal of 100 percent renewable electricity by 2050. Given that Maine is part of a regional energy market, is a 100 percent renewable electricity goal that excludes nuclear relevant and even achievable on a regional basis?

After the sun sets, solar energy production drops to zero. When a high-pressure dome settles over the region, the wind often vanishes, as we have seen for most of this past summer. During those conditions there can be less than 100 megawatts of wind generation out of 1,400 megawatts of wind capacity, most of which is in central and northern Maine. Even offshore wind generators have periods of low power output, sometimes as low as 10 to 20 percent of capacity.

So, on a cold winter evening when regional demand is a typical 17,000 megawatts or more, we could be very short of power, even allowing for interties with Canada and New York state, and contributions from hydro and biomass plants. We could be short by 10,000 megawatts or more.

Are batteries the answer? By my calculations, the region would need about 120,000 megawatt-hours of battery storage to make it through a cold winter’s night with little wind. This storage is equivalent to about 1,000 of the largest battery facility in the world, built by the electric-vehicle manufacturer Tesla in Australia. Realistically, this is not going to happen.

Even if Maine is successful in achieving carbon neutrality, and drives the production of greenhouse gases to zero, will it make a difference in stopping the calamities from climate change? I hope it does, but let’s look at the data.

Maine annually emits about 0.25 percent of the U.S. total and 0.04 percent of the world’s output of greenhouse gases. Maine can drive its emissions to zero, but if the rest of the world does not, particularly China and India, Maine will still suffer the same consequences to its environment.

About three or four large coal plants will emit as much greenhouse gases per year as Maine hopes to save. And China is building about one coal-fired power plant per week, with a goal of constructing some 250 plants. Once operating, these plants will emit 70 times as much greenhouse gases as Maine hopes to save.

While Maine, with its rich natural resources, could well afford to dismiss nuclear energy, not so in the rest of the developing world. In some form or another, advances in nuclear energy production will play an important role in the long-term future of the planet.

Yes, Maine can and should set an example for the country and world when it comes to managing greenhouse-gas emissions. It has a moral obligation to do so. But Mainers’ expectations need to be tempered. Unless the rest of the developing world rapidly jumps on board, irreversible damage will occur regardless of Maine’s own actions.


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