Solar bill fuels debate on Maine's energy future

Published on NewsOK Modified: January 21, 2014 at 4:32 pm •  Published: January 21, 2014

AUGUSTA, Maine (AP) — A bill aimed at boosting solar energy development in Maine will strengthen the economy by creating jobs, protect the environment by reducing the dependence on fossil fuels and bring the state up to speed with the rest of New England in harnessing the sun's power, advocates said on Tuesday.

Under the bill, the state would make its goal to have 40 megawatts of solar energy development by 2016 and 200 megawatts by 2020 — or enough to power roughly 30,000 homes — bringing Maine up to par with states like Massachusetts that already have met that landmark, supporters say.

But opposition from Republican Gov. Paul LePage's office gives the bill an uncertain future. Patrick Woodcock, director of the Governor's Energy Office, said that while the administration agrees with the environmental goals of the bill, it believes the free market should determine the best form of energy to take the state there.

"I certainly want to work with the Legislature to develop a policy that does utilize solar, but let's not be blind to other opportunities to address our energy challenges," he told the Energy, Utilities and Technology Committee.

Environmental groups, which are making the bill sponsored by Democratic Sen. Eloise Vitelli of Arrowsic a priority this short legislative session, say encouraging solar development in Maine is a no-brainer in the effort to combat climate change. Lawmakers say solar projects currently generate fewer than 4 megawatts of power in the state.

"It is difficult to overstate the imperative to reduce our combustion of fossil fuels that is raising temperatures and sea-levels, increasing acidity in the oceans, threatening many sectors of our economy... and increasing diseases such as Lyme and West Nile," Dylan Voorhees, clean energy director for the Natural Resources Council of Maine said in his prepared testimony before the committee.

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