Environmentalists seeking to reduce greenhouse gas emissions backed legislation Tuesday intended to scale back natural gas expansion, but the business community warned that consumers would have fewer choices and Maine’s economy would be damaged.

The bill, L.D. 2077, drew strong interest from both sides during a packed public hearing of the Energy, Utilities and Technology Committee.

“Singling out and limiting the availability of fossil fuels as it applies to home heating choice is not in the best interest of our state,” Charles Summers Jr., president and chief executive officer of the Maine Energy Marketers Association, an energy trade association, told lawmakers.

Summers instead called for an “all-of-the-above” approach that includes solar, wind, electric, oil, propane and natural gas.

Environmentalists, however, say Maine must phase out the use of natural gas to comply with a 2019 state law requiring the state to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 45% from 1990 levels by 2030, and 80% by 2050. Jack Shapiro, climate and clean energy director at the Natural Resources Council of Maine, called the legislation a “reasonable measure and approach.” He said it will “stop incentivizing” new natural gas connections.

A provision of the measure would prohibit gas companies from charging ratepayers for construction and expansion of gas service mains and gas service lines beginning Feb. 1, 2025. Instead, only business and residential customers that benefit from new infrastructure would pay the costs.


William Harwood, Maine’s public advocate, who is proposing the legislation with several environmental organizations, told lawmakers the measure is “not intended to interfere with the ability of any gas utility to continue to supply gas to its existing customers.”

“The past investments that the utilities and ratepayers have made in order to deliver and use gas will not be disturbed by this legislation,” he said. “However, the state should address the important question of whether new gas customers should be added.”

Workers from Cianbro and Shaw Brothers install pipe along Route 88 in Cumberland Foreside in 2014. Press Herald photo

Harwood said increased use of electric heat pumps to heat and cool buildings will reduce reliance on natural gas, leaving the “most vulnerable residential ratepayers” to pay higher gas prices as other customers “with resources and alternatives abandon natural gas in favor of a cleaner energy source,” he said.

Pressed by lawmakers who said state policy concedes that natural gas is a “bridge” to zero-carbon power, Harwood agreed, but asked, “What’s on the other side of that bridge for ratepayers?”

Kurt Adams, president and chief executive officer of Summit Utilities, a natural gas company, said Maine has not developed “even a fraction of the tools we need” to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Intermittent wind and sunlight that hinder full development of zero-carbon energy, the need to boost battery storage in Maine, and backlogs in projects to be connected to the grid “still stand before us as major obstacles to progress,” he said.

Jenni Tilton-Flood, a dairy farmer in Clinton, said her family farm is partnering with Summit to yield renewable energy from manure emissions. “Projects like these can’t happen” if the legislation is enacted, she said.


“As a state, we should be looking at innovative projects like this and asking, ‘How do we do this more?’ ” Tilton-Flood told lawmakers.

And Dean Bennett, economic development director of the town of Orrington, outside Bangor, said the availability of natural gas is “one of the very few assets Maine communities potentially have in their toolbox for economic development.” He said the legislation would increase the cost of natural gas, restrict expansion of gas infrastructure and eliminate “one of the few alternative fuel choices.”

Lawmakers will debate and vote on the legislation at a future meeting.

Legislative Republicans also criticized the legislation before the start of Tuesday’s hearing. At a news conference, Sen. Jim Libby, R-Cumberland, questioned increased electrification that will make hardships worse when storms knock out power, sometimes for days.

He called the measure “legislation as fiat.”

“The Legislature doesn’t mind intervening in markets and gutting those markets and moving on,” Libby said.

He also made clear that Republicans will campaign on the issue this year. His message to candidates was: “Take this to the people. They will agree with you.”

Natural gas policy was an issue away from the energy committee Tuesday as well. The Maine Public Utilities Commission approved an agreement sought by Northern Utilities Inc. that will add natural gas capacity, prompting members to call for clarity on how Maine can address carbon emissions.

“How do we achieve the state’s greenhouse gas emissions goals with respect to this industry?” Commissioner Patrick Scully said at a meeting of the agency. “I think the future of this industry is very much in question and I think we need to develop some consensus as a state as to how we get from here to there.”

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