New Environmental Laws in Maine

by Ethan Schuler

The new governor of Maine, Janet Mills, is already bringing drastic changes to the state’s environmental legal framework. While the previous governor, Paul LePage, was a notorious critic of renewable energy projects in the state, Mills has already passed laws and issues executive orders with the intention of ramping up solar and wind production in Maine. This has already led to a rise in renewable projects throughout the state, including a local solar project in Fairfield that has led to mixed results from the public.

In February, Mills signed an executive order reversing an order by LePage from early 2018 intended to stop permits on new wind projects. LePage had said in a statement that he was intending to ensure the natural beauty of Maine was protected. However, the Portland Press Herald reported that LePage had also set up a “secretive committee” to stop wind energy usage in the state. While LePage’s order had been challenged in the courts, it was initially upheld. In Mills’ reversal, she released a statement saying “it is time for Maine to send a positive signal to renewable energy investors and innovators — ‘We welcome you.’”

The new governor is also starting a $5.1 million subsidy program for electric vehicles in Maine. According to the Waterville Morning Sentinel, the money will be taken from a $5 million payment that Volkswagen made to the state after their infamous emissions scandal. In a statement, Mills said, “Maine people shell out $5 billion a year to out-of-state fossil fuel companies, and a lot of that money is spent on gas for vehicles that just becomes carbon dioxide pumped into our atmosphere. We can do better. It is time to usher in the next generation of technologies that will move our state towards a renewable future.” Mills also plans to add 50 new electric vehicle charging stations.

Mills has also attempted to encourage the use of solar projects by lowering financial risks for people that use it. According to an MIT study, the price of solar has declined 99 percent over the past four decades. Many view this effectively ending the economic argument that subsidies are necessary to make renewable energies competitive with fossil fuels. On April 2, Mills signed a bill that gives customers financial credit for excess energy produced by solar projects. This is intended to help customers pay for the cost of energy used when the sun is not shining.

The state of Maine seems poised to invest a great deal in renewable projects in the next few years. While these projects seem to generally have public support and economic benefits, some worry about decreasing property values and disrupted views. This is no exception in the Colby area, as Fairfield has three major solar projects in the works that could bring jobs to the area and lower tax rates, according to the Waterville Morning Sentinel.

Ultimately, the state is likely to see major economic growth in an industry that some view as behind the times compared to other states, perhaps due to LePage’s stances. However, Mills has certainly made environmental laws and the advancement of renewables a priority, and the impact is already being seen.