Gubernatorial candidates Alan Caron, Janet Mills and Terry Hayes at a Sept. 13 forum at University of 
Southern Maine in Portland (Photo by Andy O’Brien)
Gubernatorial candidates Alan Caron, Janet Mills and Terry Hayes at a Sept. 13 forum at University of Southern Maine in Portland (Photo by Andy O’Brien)
Three candidates for governor — Democrat Janet Mills and independents Terry Hayes and Alan Caron — discussed their positions on energy and the environment at a forum sponsored by the Environmental & Energy Technology Council of Maine (E2Tech) last week at the University of Southern Maine in Portland. Republican Shawn Moody declined to attend, just as Gov. Paul LePage blew off the last E2Tech gubernatorial debate in 2014.

Mills Aims for 100% Renewable Energy, Blasts CMP

Attorney General Janet Mills said she accepts the scientific consensus that climate change is caused by human activities and she will support policies to mitigate it, including setting a state goal of switching to 100 percent renewable energy by 2050.

“I believe that by 2050 we can transition to a healthy and prosperous economy relying virtually entirely on renewable energy. That’s my goal,” said Mills. “Solar, onshore wind, offshore wind and eventually good battery storage as well as energy efficiency will get us there.”

She said the first thing she would do as governor would be to establish a cabinet-level post of Maine Energy Commissioner with the mission of reducing costs for Maine ratepayers and promoting sustainable energy.

“We talk about workforce development and we talk about attracting young people back to the state of Maine or encouraging them to stay here; the solar energy industry is one area that attracts them,” said Mills. “We know that fewer than 600 people in Maine work in the solar industry. In Massachusetts, more than 14,000 people work in solar.”

Mills said she would also propose subsidizing the purchase of electric vehicles for nonprofit agencies that provide rides to seniors and create more charging stations for electric vehicles. She said her third priority would be to promote outdoor recreation as a way to build public support for land conservation and protection policies. She said she would also continue to fight the Trump administration on efforts to roll back energy-efficiency standards and pollution regulations, such as ozone reduction programs and limits on mercury emissions.

“I will be there to stand up for Maine because we are the end of the tailpipe,” said Mills. “I will stand up in court and elsewhere as your governor to protect the Clean Power Plan and make sure that the health and safety of Mainers and Maine’s children afflicted with asthma and other medical problems....are protected.”

Mills said she wants to reduce dependence on heating oil, by investing in home weatherization programs and expanding the heat pump rebate program. She said she would invest in a “better, smarter electric grid,” which she said would entail putting more pressure on utilities. She also took the Public Utilities Commission and Central Maine Power to task over allegations of overbilling customers and the utility’s response to the windstorm last October. This week, the three LePage-appointed PUC members unanimously concluded that CMP and Emera Maine responded “reasonably” to the storm. Mills said she is “skeptical” about CMP’s proposal to build a transmission line from Quebec to bring hydro power to Massachusetts.

“Until CMP demonstrates that this offers concrete and long-term benefits to the people of Maine rather than only to Quebec and Massachusetts, I remain skeptical of this transmission line proposal,” Mills said in a statement. “I have concerns about the environmental impact of this project and about CMP’s very ability to construct and maintain this 145-mile 300-foot-wide line when they cannot provide basic answers for why nearly 100,000 of their customers experienced a 50-percent increase in their bills.”

If elected, Mills would have the opportunity in the first four years of her administration to replace two members of the PUC, Chairman Mark Vannoy and Bruce Williamson, both of whom have voted to weaken renewable-energy policies. Mills said she would also like to focus on strategies to mitigate sea-level rise and bring emergency preparedness officials, utilities and local government leaders together to come up with a plan to respond to extreme weather events.

“I want to make sure that we coordinate, so we don’t lose power for tens and hundreds of thousands of people during the inevitable storms to come,” she said.

Hayes: A Nonpartisan Collaborative Problem Solver

State Treasurer Terry Hayes repeatedly said that she will be a “nonpartisan” who will focus on “fiscal responsibility and collaborative problem solving.”

“I am convinced that if we elect another partisan at this point, the partisanship that has been very divisive, not only in our state but also nationally, will be locked in,” said Hayes. “And I’m running so that there will be a nonpartisan option.”

Hayes said she does not have an energy policy or a position on whether the state should incentivize renewable energy because it’s not a policy area she has spent a lot of time researching. She said that while she prefers to have a “level playing field” when it comes to energy sources, she recognizes that it may be “unlevel” due to government subsidies for fossil fuels.

“The fact is that I don’t have a proposal,” she said, adding, “I see [energy policy] as part of a comprehensive economic development plan for Maine and I’m uncomfortable with inviting people to a collaborative process in a conversation and telling them at the beginning what the answer is going to be.”



 




Instead, she said she would develop “a comprehensive economic development plan,” which would be implemented in 2020, that would include an energy policy as well as “pieces of our tax policy that are working against us.” Hayes said her first priority would be to identify what Maine is doing about climate change and figure out what the state has the power to change.

“I think our place in this broader planet is really important to recognize and that we take responsibility for changing those things that we can, focused around our future around our natural resources,” she said. “Global warming is at the top of the list.”

Hayes said her second priority would be to be “good stewards of what we already have” and look at ways of restructuring the Department of Environmental Protection. “We have to lead with our assets,” she said. “I think our natural resources are at the top of that list, a close second to our people, in my opinion.”

Hayes said the state needs to start monitoring commercial water extraction because it has become a commodity and it’s one of the state’s natural resources. “I’m not reaching conclusions about it,” she said. “I’m saying we are under-informed, so I think that’s something we should be paying attention to.”

Hayes said she would look at ways to invest federal funds in home energy efficiency projects and educate residents who don’t live near the coasts about the threat climate change poses.

“What I would try to do as Maine’s next governor is to make sure that we’re intimately aware that all of us are impacted [by climate change] and [have] the responsibility for addressing that and planning for it.”

Hayes said the most important financial investment the state can make would be to expand broadband internet as a way to attract businesses. “I frame it as ‘fiber to every business,’” she said. “I think if we don’t do that, we cannot do the other parts of what the question suggests. I think we start with the infrastructure that’s necessary, both for current businesses to grow and succeed and then to invite others.”

Caron: Brookings & 100% Renewable Energy

Alan Caron, who has spent his career as an entrepreneur and strategic planner, said he would emphasize the 2006 “Charting Maine’s Future” report, which he commissioned the Brookings Institution to create in 2006 when he was the head of the nonprofit Grow Smart Maine. The report focused on promoting “smart growth policies” and recommended investing in revitalizing towns and research and development as well as cutting income taxes, exporting sales taxes to tourism-related activities and consolidating schools and municipal services.

Like Mills, Caron said he would also set a goal that Maine switch to 100 percent renewable energy by 2050 by providing financial incentives to solar and offshore wind power.

“In order to do that we have to move heavily on solar and offshore wind in particular,” said Caron. “Solar is the disruptive technology of our time. It is where the great transformations will happen in the 10-, 15- and 20-year horizon. And if we can lead the race to get there, this will save billions of dollars that are now going out to oil and gas companies that can be reinvested here. This alone will transform the future Maine for the next 100 years.”

Caron said he would also focus on expanding high-speed broadband internet and creating a decentralized smart grid for distributed energy technology like solar and battery storage to take pressure off the central grid. He said Central Maine Power’s proposed $200 million upgrade to Portland-area electricity infrastructure amounts to “goldplating the grid.”

“Of course CMP wants that. That’s where they make their money. It’s not that complicated,” said Caron. And they want a bigger grid and they want more spending so then they can recover it from ratepayers. I would love to see us make a $200 to $250 million investment in decentralized energy production, particularly in solar.”

Consensus on Subsidizing Natural Gas Pipelines

All three candidates expressed support for charging electricity customers to subsidize the construction of natural gas pipeline capacity into New England. Two years ago, a Massachusetts court killed an effort to create a regional subsidy, funded by New England ratepayers, to expand pipeline capacity as a way to relieve constraints in the pipeline during a few days in the winter when natural gas is being used for heating and electricity. Last winter, business groups and gas companies revived the debate after electric rates spiked during a particularly harsh cold snap.

Mills said she has some concerns about methane gas leaks, but said natural gas could help the transition off of oil. She said she would like to sit down with Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker, who supports natural gas pipeline expansion, to come to an agreement on how to expand pipeline capacity “to some small degree.”

“I think natural gas could be the backbone around which we build some renewable energy, ween ourselves off of fossil fuels and decrease the need for oil using heat pumps and converting small cars and trucks to electric vehicles,” she said.

Alan Caron said he would get solar advocates and natural gas pipeline supporters together to hammer out a compromise, trading solar investment for pipeline expansion.

“I wish I could say that we should shut down the expansion of gas pipelines and move immediately to solar and wind,” he said. “I’ve reluctantly concluded that I don’t think that’s possible.”

Hayes said a natural gas pipeline from New Brunswick was critical in the Woodland Pulp mill’s decision to invest in two new tissue machines. “I look at natural gas as a bridge fuel that’s going to get us from where we are now to where we know we need to be,” she said.

But environmental groups have questioned whether the region really does need to invest in more gas pipelines. In May, the Conservation Law Foundation and a number of other environmental groups released a study by Synapse Energy Economics, which concluded that New England is already on track to ensure a reliable power system without investing in more pipelines and there is “virtually zero risk of rolling blackouts in the winter” as long as New England states continue to invest in renewable energy and energy efficiency on the pace required by existing state laws. Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker strongly supports gas pipeline expansion, but his Democratic opponent Jay Gonazles told MassLive that he opposes expanding pipelines because “it’s just going to further our dependence on fossil fuels.”