Greenhouse gases, like the emissions from this industrial chimney in northern China, are not only a global environmental issue but a business one, according to presenters at a Maine conference on Friday. File photo/Ng Han Guan, Associated Press

Climate change is an enormous threat to Maine’s economy but also offers many opportunities for businesses willing to adapt.

That was the message presented Friday during ClimateWork Maine’s Summit on Maine’s Economy and Climate Change at the Augusta Civic Center.

The event was one of the state’s first large-scale events aimed at exploring climate change as an economic issue – how it will impact the business community, what businesses can do to make the best of the shift, and what products and services will be needed.

The summit also was the first major event hosted by ClimateWork Maine, a new nonprofit coalition focused on helping Maine businesses transition to renewable energy sources and take steps to reduce climate change.

More than 400 people came to Augusta to hear 60 speakers and nearly 20 presentations and panels covering a wide range of topics. Discussions ranged from tax benefits and the future of forestry to the future of electric vehicles and the latest in heating technology. The Press Herald was a sponsor of the event.

The most efficient way to address climate change on both sides of the political aisle is to present it as an economic issue, said Tiffany Adams, executive vice president of the Climate Leadership Council and the summit’s keynote speaker. 


The council and the Maine Legislature are working on programs to incentivize U.S. companies to reduce emissions, as well as tax imports from countries that are less carbon efficient. 


Climate change is a threat to the planet, but it’s more than that, Adams said. 

It’s the economy, jobs and people’s livelihoods, she said. Climate change is often viewed as a black-and-white issue, with a focus on what must be done to save the planet, but officials also need to examine how businesses will protect jobs, she said. 

“We just want to produce the best goods and we want to sell the best goods and we want to keep folks employed,” she said. “We have to look at every angle of the work we are doing.”

Speakers also discussed the transition to more renewable energy resources like solar, wind and wood. Maine, in particular, is well-situated to establish itself as a leader in wood production given that it is the most densely forested U.S. state.


The experts also discussed the need for greater housing density and the pressure to electrify basic energy functions, with an emphasis on heat pumps and vehicles. Combined, transportation and residential energy use account for 73% of the state’s greenhouse gas emissions.

The summit comes more than three years after Gov. Janet Mills issued an executive order pledging that Maine will be carbon-neutral by 2045

The Legislature also has pledged that the state will reduce its greenhouse gas emissions by 45% from 1990 levels by 2030 and 80% by 2050. 

Lawmakers have created a 35-member Maine Climate Council tasked with figuring out how to meet those goals, as well as monitoring the effects of ocean acidification, warming waters, and changes in the salt and dissolved oxygen content in the Gulf of Maine. 

But there are significant challenges ahead.

Two of the most pressing, said Sen. Angus King, are energy storage and the permitting process for energy infrastructure.


“The wind doesn’t always blow and the sun doesn’t always shine,” King said in a video presentation.

It also takes too long to get things done.

One method of energy storage, known as pumped storage hydropower, takes an average of 17 years to work through the permitting process. Other hydroelectric projects can take 10 to 15 years. 

King wants to streamline the permitting so that projects can move through the process faster. 

“We’re in a race against climate change,” he said. “We don’t have time.”



A carbon-neutral and greenhouse gas-free future also will require a major shift in the state’s workforce. 

Maine has thousands of jobs that rely on fossil fuels, from the automotive industry to oil companies. But simultaneously, the state is trying to support 30,000 clean energy jobs by 2030.

“Progress is difficult,” said Adam Lee, chairman of Lee Auto Malls, one of the state’s largest auto dealerships. He said the Legislature will need to approach the issue carefully.

There isn’t yet a clear way to handle how these businesses will adapt, but there is a flurry of activity centered around training a new group of workers or retraining existing workers in a new industry.

Last year, Mills announced the Clean Energy Partnership, a coalition of state agencies, municipalities, educators and organizations “preparing more Maine people for jobs in growing clean energy and energy efficiency fields, providing avenues for business support (and) advancing innovation in the clean energy sector,” the governor’s office said. 

Vaughn Woodruff, director of ReVision’s energy training center, said it has been a significant challenge to find workers to support what he called the largest infrastructure project in history. 


“We have the policy, we have the money – we don’t have the people,” he said during a summit panel on retraining Maine workers for tomorrow’s jobs. 

The country is estimated to need 1 million new electricians by 2030. At the current pace, the U.S. will add only 400,000. 

“It’s frightening,” Vaughn said. “Those are the people who we are depending upon to salvage our civilization. Electricians will save the world.” 

To help combat the problem, ReVision operates an in-house apprenticeship program. 

The company also partnered with Portland Adult Education to offer a pre-apprenticeship clean energy training program for new Mainers. 

“The new Mainer population offers such an amazing opportunity for us,” he said. “It’s an untapped group with amazing resources.” 


Maine’s community colleges also have been working to prepare Maine students for the anticipated tidal wave of need in the clean-energy sector. The community college system has launched dozens of programs in the last few years geared toward heat pump installers, general electricians, electric vehicle technicians and other clean energy careers that businesses will need in the next few years, said Christopher Winstead, deputy executive director of workforce training.

The colleges also have worked to make the programs accessible for people already in the workforce, with night, weekend and remote options. 

The Associated General Contractors of Maine is launching a new Maine Construction Academy next week in an effort to create more construction jobs, which Kelly Flagg, executive director, said will be more important than ever as the state undergoes the massive infrastructure overhaul that will be required by the climate goals.

The academy is currently geared toward recent high school graduates, but Flagg plans to expand the program to immigrants, people in recovery and people recently released from incarceration. 

The pre-apprenticeship program will introduce students to roughly a dozen different trades within the industry, with courses taught by industry leaders and a focus on clean energy careers, she said. 

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