The BDN Opinion section operates independently and does not set newsroom policies or contribute to reporting or editing articles elsewhere in the newspaper or on bangordailynews.com.
Amy Fried is chair of the Department of Political Science at the University of Maine. Her views are her own and do not represent those of any group with which she is affiliated.
It’s time to serve both our environmental and economic health, using technologies that just keep getting better.
Take energy. When we tally transportation, cooking, lighting and other ways we use electricity, and heat, the total really adds up for families. The same goes for businesses, which may be running machinery for manufacturing, moving goods, or keeping offices or retail spaces comfortable.
Every dollar spent for unnecessary energy costs could be saved, invested or used for something else.
And that excess energy use also can harm the planet and human health — through pollution from gathering or moving energy sources, facilities generating electricity, or the carbon produced when burning energy. Climate change is causing extensive, expensive damage through horrific storms, higher ocean waters and increasing global temperatures. In Maine, the lucrative lobster fishery will be harmed. The costs of inaction are considerable.
Besides fixing buildings so they don’t waste energy, moving toward renewable energy is increasingly a great choice.
Solar and wind energy have plummeted in price. As Oxford University researcher Max Roser delineates in an analysis of electricity costs, the cost of onshore wind dropped by 70 percent in 10 years and the cost of solar photovoltaics declined by 89 percent.
The predictable result from this price drop is a rapid adoption of wind and solar. According to a report by the International Renewable Energy Agency, in 2019 renewables accounted for “72 percent of all capacity additions worldwide.”
Some places, of course, are moving faster than others.
Scotland’s electricity needs were almost all met — 97.4 percent, to be exact — by renewable energy. To encourage its people to use that energy for electric cars, the Scotland government offers zero-interest five-year loans of up to 20,000 pounds (about the equivalent of $27,750).
In the United States, Iowa became the first state to generate 40 percent of its electricity from wind in 2019 and it’s now seeing a surge in solar power.
These technological leaps are a big reason why carbon emissions from power generation are lower than predicted 15 years ago. According to a report for the U.S. Department of Energy, “in only 15 years the country’s power sector has gone halfway to zero emissions.”
And, as that Energy Department report shows, this shift in energy sources has kept costs down, created employment and helped our health. Specifically, “total consumer electricity costs [i.e., bills] were 18 percent lower; costs to human health and the climate were 92 percent and 52 percent lower, respectively; and the number of jobs in electricity generation was 29 percent higher.”
Now we can keep this progress going and, given the stakes for our planet, we must.
Energy and transportation, both old and new, are subsidized by governments and otherwise affected by public policy.
President Joe Biden’s American Jobs Plan incorporates environmental policy and would, like John F. Kennedy’s space program, spark and improve new technologies. As a report from the White House Council of Economic Advisors points out, such investments would improve American competitiveness and boost our economy. Help is needed for workers in energy sectors that are fading.
Some Maine elected officials are leading. Sen. Angus King, long interested in energy issues, attended a bipartisan meeting of lawmakers at the White House on Biden’s bill, where he was asked by the president to manage the discussion.
Gov. Janet Mills not only put solar panels on the Blaine House but has a forward-looking agenda, with comprehensive proposals from the Maine Climate Council she created.
Again, good economics and the environment go together, as Mills plans to double jobs in clean energy and efficiency by 2030. Last week Mills announced a $500,000 grants program for renewable energy companies, noting that the “clean energy economy creates good-paying, sustaining careers across all of Maine.” And leaders in the labor and environmental community see great potential from offshore wind power.
Much more needs to be done. But together we can embrace a future of a healthier economy and environment.