It will take nearly three decades for the solar panels installed this year at the Blaine House to pay off on the state’s investment. Gov. Janet Mills’ other efforts on solar power, however, are already showing dividends.
Because of limitations at the state-owned property, the $63,000 project at the governor’s mansion, featuring 24 ground-mounted panels and another 37 on the roof of the carriage house, will only generate half of the power initially expected.
Because of security and access issues, the state bought the installation outright. Typically, when government or nonprofit institutions pursue such a project, a solar company finances and operates the project while the customers buys the power generated.
Also, unlike private solar customers, the state — because it does not pay taxes — could not take advantage of a 30 percent federal tax credit.
All of that means that Mainers shouldn’t judge solar projects based on the numbers generated by the Blaine House project. (Still, the panels are expected to offset the equivalent of 1,800 gallons of oil every year, and will make their money back for taxpayers as long as state government is still around in 2049.)
No, the project is best seen as a public demonstration of Gov. Mills’ commitment to increasing the state’s use of renewable energy and lowering the carbon emissions that are raising temperatures across the globe – already affecting health, agriculture, forestry, fisheries and outdoor recreation in Maine.
Gov. Mills has set a goal for the state of doubling the percentage of power coming from renewable sources to 80 percent by 2030, and getting to 100 percent by 2050. She wants Maine to be carbon-neutral by 2045, and she has convened the Maine Climate Council to come up with concrete steps for getting there.
Those steps include more electric vehicles on Maine roads, more home heating conversions – and the widespread development of solar power.
In the last year, the governor and the Legislature also passed legislation held back during the LePage administration that encourages small and large solar projects, and allows more low- and moderate-income Mainers to take part in them.
The policies in that legislation mirror what has been going on for years in Massachusetts, where the more than 10,000 jobs in the solar industry gives a hint at what’s to come in Maine. The goal of increasing use of renewable energy is expected to attract hundreds of millions of dollars in investment to the state and create nearly 2,000 jobs over the next decade.
Legislation that opened the way for more large-scale community solar projects is already paying dividends, drawing interest from investors across the country. The biggest issue may come from managing all the growth.
After years of unnecessary delay, Maine’s solar industry is ready to take off. The changes made by Gov. Mills and the Legislature, with input from both Democrats and Republicans, will bring investment and create jobs. They’ll reduce carbon emissions and make sure Maine is doing its small part to combat climate change.
Talk about a payoff.
This editorial first appeared in the Portland Press Herald on Dec. 9.