Heat Pumps & Floating Wind To Lead Zero Emissions Campaign In Maine

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Several years ago, the state of Maine embarked on an ambitious program to install 100,000 heat pumps throughout the state by 2025. The idea was part of a push by the state to lower its carbon emissions. The furnaces and boilers used to heat most homes in the state are fueled by heating oil or propane, which send carbon dioxide up the chimney when in operation.

The critics — primarily paid by the fuel oil and propane industries — set about doing what they do best, which is scaring people with elaborate tales of how heat pumps would leave them freezing in their homes as temperatures dropped in the winter. A few years ago, that might have been true, but the heat pumps available today can heat a home even when its -20º F outside.

Once the people of Maine realized they could save a considerable amount of money each winter by switching to a heat pump (the ability to also cool their homes in summer was an added bonus), they began installing them in record numbers. In fact, the state of Maine blew by its target of 100,000 heat pumps by 2025 two years ahead of schedule.

Now that the word is out that heat pumps are a reliable way to heat a home in winter, Maine has set a new target, one that plans to see another 175,000 heat pumps installed across the state by 2027. At a ceremony announcing the new initiative, Maine governor Janet Mills said, “We are setting an example for the nation. Our transition to heat pumps is creating good paying jobs, curbing our reliance on fossil fuels, and cutting costs for Maine families, all while making them more comfortable in their homes — a hat trick for our state.”

Heat pumps are ready to go mainstream across the U.S. to replace the fossil-fuel systems ​“that we’ve used for the last 100 years,” said Michael Stoddard, executive director of Efficiency Maine. In February of this year, Maine experienced some of the lowest temperatures seen in the state over the past 50 years, with windchills falling to -60˚F. Efficiency Maine checked in with heat pump owners across the state to see how they were faring. ​

“They reported that they were comfortable and warm,” he said. ​“So we know that [heat pumps] are performing at very cold temperatures.” Researchers found that during the winter of 2021, heat pumps in Maine performed reliably in below freezing temperatures and customers reported being satisfied with them. Because of their efficiency, heat pumps are also saving the state’s residents money, especially now that the war on Ukraine has disrupted global energy markets.

Stoddard told Canary Media recently that more than 140,000 heat pumps have been installed in the state over the past decade. “If they were not functioning in the cold weather, we would have received a lot of complaints by now,” he said. Instead, the group has observed ​“incredibly high customer satisfaction.”

It’s all well and good to promote heat pumps, but somebody has to be able to advise homeowners what the correct heat pump is for their home and install it. To increase the number of qualified heat pump specialists in the state, the Maine Community College System developed training programs for heat pump installers in 2019. Today, those programs are providing the technicians the state will need to reach its new goal of an additional 170,000 heat pumps by 2027.

“Spurred by Governor Mills’ clear call to action on heat pumps in 2019, we immediately added training lab space, hired more instructors, developed new short term training programs, and incorporated new heat pump training units into our degree and certificate programs,” said David Daigler, President of the Maine Community College System. “Today, I’m proud to say it worked. Maine’s community colleges have trained 558 heat pump installers, with 60 percent of them trained through short term workforce training programs, further showing why Maine’s community colleges are the state’s go-to for nimble, responsive workforce training.”

Maine Targets Floating Wind Technology

Gulf of Maine
Courtesy of NOAA

The state’s community colleges will soon need to create new training programs for workers in the offshore wind industry. Governor Mills has also set a goal for Maine to obtain all of its electricity from zero emissions sources by 2040. Today, 72% of its electricity comes from hydropower, wind, and solar. To get to 100% renewable energy, the state has just passed new legislation that will promote the construction of floating wind turbines in the Gulf of Maine. Because the waters off the coast of Maine are so deep, using turbines mounted directly to the ocean floor is not feasible.

“To combat climate change and invest in Maine’s energy independence, our state has set ambitious but necessary goals for renewable energy. It’s clear that this effort will involve offshore wind energy projects,” state senator Mark Lawrence, the bill’s sponsor, said in a statement. “If we know this is coming, we need to have guardrails in place to make sure this is done right and truly benefits Mainers.”

The plan calls for the construction of 3 GW of floating wind turbines in the Gulf of Maine, located in areas that are not involved in the state’s fishing and lobstering activities. The sensitivity to the needs of those two industries was key to getting the Maine Lobstering Union Local 207 and the Maine State Building & Construction Trades Council to endorse the legislation.

3 GW of offshore floating wind power could provide about half of Maine’s electricity demand in 2040, Jack Shapiro, climate and clean energy director at the Natural Resources Council of Maine, told Canary Media. Maine’s electricity needs are expected to increase as more heat pumps and electric cars are placed in service in the state.

Floating wind turbines present unique hurdles. They cost more to build. The technology is still relatively new, which means supply chains are just getting set up. The port facilities needed to assemble the buoys, cables, and multi-legged platforms are still being created.

About 80 percent of the world’s offshore wind resource potential is in areas with a water depth of more than 60 meters (nearly 200 feet), meaning it’s ill suited for fixed-bottom foundations, according to a 2023 report by the Global Wind Energy Council.

“Floating offshore wind is going to be a critical part for all of us meeting our climate and energy goals, not just in the U.S. but around the world,” Shapiro said. ​“We’re really excited about the potential for Maine to be a leader for the entire East Coast.”

The Takeaway

California is generally seen as the US state with the most ambitious climate goals, but Maine is bidding to be a leader in clean energy and is using its community college system to prepare future workers for employment in heat pumps and wind power technology.

What is most impressive about what Maine is doing to prepare for the future is that it is moving forward with support from all political parties and industry groups. Lots of jurisdictions have similar goals but are stymied by opposition from those who feel they have been left out of the planning process. Maine has done more to build community support for its ambitious clean energy and carbon reduction initiatives and it is paying off by getting the technologies its needs built and in operation sooner.

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Steve Hanley

Steve writes about the interface between technology and sustainability from his home in Florida or anywhere else The Force may lead him. He is proud to be "woke" and doesn't really give a damn why the glass broke. He believes passionately in what Socrates said 3000 years ago: "The secret to change is to focus all of your energy not on fighting the old but on building the new." You can follow him on Substack and LinkedIn but not on Fakebook or any social media platforms controlled by narcissistic yahoos.

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