Subsidizing this natural gas pipeline is a terrible deal for Maine
What future do we want? Maine’s energy policy can either move towards greater energy independence with citizens and businesses owning more of the production through harnessing our abundant solar and wind resources or we can subsidize large, out-of-state pipeline construction that makes us more dependent on the unstable markets for fossil fuels that contribute to climate change and pollution.
Right now the Maine Public Utilities Commission (MPUC) is considering a pipeline expansion in southern New England that doesn’t pass the straight face test. This pipeline will take years to build, cost at least $3 billion (up to $225 million of which could be shouldered by Maine), and is not needed to address the few days in the winter that New England sometimes runs short on natural gas capacity. That shortfall can be easily met through using the already-existing, under-utilized liquid natural gas (LNG) storage in New England. We do not need to build more pipeline capacity to meet our needs, we don’t even need to build more storage capacity; we just have to be smarter about how we use the existing infrastructure. We have a failure of distribution, not a supply problem.
On top of that, the proposed pipeline would link the fracked gas fields of Ohio and Pennsylvania to the LNG export terminal in Rhode Island and the proposed LNG export terminal in Nova Scotia; this pipeline has little to do with meeting Maine’s energy needs and much more to do with selling LNG to Germany and the rest of Western Europe while we pick up the tab. Basic economics tells us that you won’t lower energy costs by helping the gas companies reach larger, higher-priced markets.
The LePage-appointed MPUC has funded two different studies that found that the pipeline was not in the ratepayer interests, and so far they have disregarded their own studies. The legislature can write laws that direct the PUC in what it can do (and the solar bill LD1649 that was just vetoed by LePage was an attempt at that kind law), but the next opportunity will come in January, after the November election. The PUC is expected to decide on the pipeline this June.
The use of natural gas is particularly harmful to the climate with its methane leakage in fracking and transportation. The EPA’s own studies show that methane has 86 times the impact on climate change as carbon dioxide. An independent study found that the levels of methane leakage in the industry made the global warming effect of natural gas actually worse than burning coal.
Climate change is affecting Maine in many ways, with one of the most obvious being damage to our fisheries. Ask anyone who is involved with the lobster industry what has happened to southern New England’s lobsters. They are gone. The recently thriving lobster fishery in NY, RI, and MA is finished. The lobsters have moved north or died from diseases brought on by warmer water temperatures. These rising temperatures are threatening Maine’s own fisheries. Our lobster fishery caught $510.7 million of lobsters in 2015 and has an economic impact on the state of over $3 billion. The decisions we make on our energy investments now will affect the future of the Gulf of Maine fisheries.
There is also the broader economic effect to Maine. The less money that leaves the state, the better off we are. Maine imports six billion dollars of fossil fuel each year, this is an enormous drain to our economy while also contributing to an increase in climate change. If we produce more of our own energy and reduce imports it helps our economy. We can control our energy future through solar, appropriately-sited wind, and increasing our energy efficiency. All of these will create a lot of good paying jobs all around our state. It will also be helping to protect our resource-based economy and our infrastructure from the extremes of climate change. We are choosing our future every day.
Photo via Flickr/Tim Evanson.
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