Image of right whale tangled in fishing gear retrieved from NOAA

Want Your Community To Take Action On Ambitious Climate Goals? Follow What Maine Does

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I live in Florida, where the governor has banned speaking the words “climate change” — well, at least when it comes to governmental affairs. In reaction, a local meteorologist has vocalized his dismay. We on the ground know what’ll happen next to Steve MacLaughlin — he’ll be out on his ass. It’s how it works here in Florida, the Sunshine State that’s drowning due to coastal and septic flooding. Maine, on the other hand, now offers climate-related, interdisciplinary professional development for local education providers to apply to partner with a community-based organization.

What a difference 1500 miles makes.

A city in Maine is in the process of establishing a climate fund that will draw from renewable energy credits on its solar projects. The State of Maine has worked with the feds to provide smart siting for offshore wind to protect right whales, introduced a super-sized battery storage facility, looked at harnessing tidal power for island communities, promoted battery storage for its electrical grid, and installed more and more heat pumps in residences and businesses than most anywhere.

And that’s only the start for Maine and its climate agenda. Florida Governor DeSantis, shame on you.

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Maine Climate Action NOW! (MCAN) formed in early 2019 to increase the impact of Maine’s leading climate action organizations. In 2020 Governor Janet Mills announced Maine’s Climate Action Plan. It includes a wide variety of recommendations to create new jobs and reduce pollution, including sharp increases in electric vehicles (EVs) and residential heat pumps, additional support for renewable energy projects, assistance to improve community resilience, and programs to protect natural and working lands across the state, which act as critical carbon sinks.

Here is a sampling of the climate actions in which Maine is currently engaged. It’s quite inspiring.

Climate fund: Portland, Maine wants to support its climate goals, but sustained funding is essential to meet those targets. A proposed ordinance in Portland would establish a new 2025 climate fund using money primarily from the sale of renewable energy credits, or RECs, from city-backed solar projects such as at the Portland International Jetport and on the former city landfill. Proceeds from the sale of RECs would amount to about $300,000 to $400,000 a year — a good start on many climate actions. As reported by local independent journalist Annie Ropeik, Portland’s fund could be used to pay a consultant to write grants that could bring in federal funding. The money could help pay for consulting work on emissions-cutting or resiliency projects, climate grant-related costs or local matches, community micro-grant programs for climate-friendly improvements, or other expenses for the city sustainability office.

Energy storage: Houston-based Plus Power is beginning construction on the Cross Town 175 MW/350 MWh battery storage installation at the Gorham Industrial Park. When completed by mid-2025, it will be one of the largest energy storage facilities in New England. The $100 million-plus project will feature 156 containers spread across 5 acres with lithium iron phosphate batteries inside. One use for this battery storage is to relieve congestion on southern Maine’s constrained electric grid by absorbing and storing excess energy as more solar and wind comes online.

Heat pumps: Once the people of Maine realized they could save a considerable amount of money by switching to a heat pump, they began installing them in record numbers. In fact, Maine blew by its original target of 100,000 heat pumps by 2025 two years ahead of schedule, and now Maine has set a new target, one that plans to see another 175,000 heat pumps installed across the state by 2027. Heat pumps are ready to go mainstream across the US to replace the fossil fuel systems ​“that we’ve used for the last 100 years,” said Michael Stoddard, executive director of Efficiency Maine.

Siting for offshore wind with right whales in mind: The Final Wind Energy Area (WEA) identified for potential offshore wind development in the Gulf of Maine is largely located away from habitats of higher importance to endangered North Atlantic right whales. This smart siting decision will help the industry advance responsibly in this new offshore wind region. This is important because offshore wind development needs to avoid and minimize harms to marine mammals and other species during development, including through mitigation measures that reduce the risk from vessel strikes, noise pollution, and habitat disturbance. Offshore wind is one danger to right whales: they are are also being stressed by underwater noise pollution and experiencing general malnourishment, ill health, and impaired reproduction, all while fighting to adapt to climate change.

Energy resilience: Eastport, Maine, sits 7 miles off the coast. The bridged island, connected to the mainland by a single causeway, faces powerful Atlantic Ocean winds and is susceptible to disruptive power outages. Unstable power and high energy costs were among the energy resilience challenges that brought Eastport to the Energy Transitions Initiative Partnership Project (ETIPP) in 2021. ETIPP researchers analyzed the potential for incorporating tidal energy and solar arrays to generate microgrid power and the battery energy storage system requirements to store this renewable energy. Funding from the US Department of Energy’s Energizing Rural Communities will support the installation of more renewable energy sources and a regional microgrid in Eastport.

Climate education: The state says that climate education is a crucial component of supporting Maine’s climate initiatives and goals. Maine is convinced that climate education can foster a generation of Mainers who are ready to take on the world’s challenges and support all its communities. This pilot program will be awarding grants for high-quality professional development designed and carried out in partnership with community-based nonprofit organizations. Grant awards will be accessible to all local education providers throughout the state for pre-K through grade 12, with the program giving priority to applications that serve historically underserved by climate education communities.

Final Thoughts About Maine & Its Climate Action Leadership

Peyton Siler Jones, the Portland-based interim director of sustainability with the National League of Cities, said creative approaches are essential to creating long term funding streams for local climate work. “Figuring out how to have those savings not just go to the general fund, but go to a special climate fund to continue to implement climate projects, is one example of an innovative solution,” she told local reporter Ropeik. “It’s exciting to see that being something that can be scaled and replicated in smaller communities.”

So much has happened in a few years. Mills signed an executive order calling for a “clean transportation roadmap” to achieve the state’s climate plan goal of increasing the number of EVs on the road in Maine by 2030. Climate Pollution Reduction Grant applications closed last month; recipients will implement greenhouse gas emission reduction and sequestration projects with awards ranging from $2 million to $500 million. On Earth Day, 2024, White House representatives visited Scarborough and announced $10.5 million in federal grants from the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law that will fund projects in York, Cumberland, and Washington Counties, including $1.4 million for marshes, which are a natural barrier against storms but need room to migrate.

It took the support of key legislative leaders in Maine for MCAN and its affiliates to bring climate action reality to the state level and get the most progressive climate legislation passed by any state at that time. Many constituent groups are working alongside Mills’ administration to make Maine energy independent and net zero by 2030.

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Carolyn Fortuna

Carolyn Fortuna, PhD, is a writer, researcher, and educator with a lifelong dedication to ecojustice. Carolyn has won awards from the Anti-Defamation League, The International Literacy Association, and The Leavey Foundation. Carolyn is a small-time investor in Tesla and an owner of a 2022 Tesla Model Y as well as a 2017 Chevy Bolt. Please follow Carolyn on Substack:

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