A year ago, Maine unveiled its climate action plan. What progress has been made?
A year ago, on Dec. 1, 2020, Maine unveiled a four-year Climate Action Plan, “Maine Won’t Wait,” which aims to decrease greenhouse gas emissions in the state by 45% by 2030 and 80% by 2050, and achieve carbon neutrality by 2045. On Wednesday, the Mills administration released a progress report that says Maine has made “significant strides” toward the ambitious goals established a year ago.
“It’s no longer uncertain whether we can turn our plan into action, we have proven that we can,” the progress report states. “What is now certain is that we must continue to act with urgency to protect our state and its people against climate impacts and make the most of this moment in which we have the methods, and the means, to make a difference.”
What's in the plan?
The plan focuses on four major goals:
- Reduce Maine’s greenhouse gas emissions
- Avoid the impacts and costs of inaction
- Foster economic opportunity and prosperity
- Advance equity through Maine’s climate response
There are eight major strategies laid out in the plan to achieve its goals, including accelerating Maine's transition to electric vehicles and modernizing Maine’s buildings to advancing clean, renewable energy sources and climate-ready infrastructure.
The plan pays special attention to addressing transportation, which is responsible for 54% of Maine’s annual greenhouse gas emissions, and home heating, which accounts for 19% of emissions. Maine currently spends roughly $4.4 billion annually on imported fossil fuels, so the plan also calls for transitioning toward renewable energy solutions.
How is Maine progressing?
The first strategy, aimed at curbing greenhouse gas emissions from transportation, focuses on transitioning from gasoline to alternative fuels or electricity generated from renewable sources such as wind and solar. The plan also aims to increase public transportation and reduce VMT, or vehicle miles traveled, over time – decreasing light-duty VMT 20% by 2030, and heavy-duty VMT 4% by 2030. The state plans to expand incentives for electric vehicles (EVs) and build more EV charging stations. The plan sets a goal of 41,000 electric vehicles on the road in Maine by 2025 and 219,000 just five years later.
According to the Maine Won’t Wait One-Year Progress Report, there are now 5,577 electric and hybrid vehicles on the road in Maine, a 47% increase from 2019, and 265 electric vehicle charging stations were installed in 2021.
Despite some progress, challenges remain in addressing transportation emissions. The report says 2,335 vehicles are all-electric cars, while the remainder are plug-in hybrid vehicles. In addition, cost is still a prohibitive factor for many Mainers in purchasing an EV.
The second strategy, focused on modernizing buildings, outlines a transition to cleaner heating and cooling systems and efficient appliances, like heat pumps. It also doubles the current pace of home weatherization. The plan calls for the installation of at least 100,000 new heat pumps in Maine by 2025, and weatherize 17,000 homes by 2025, and 35,000 by 2030.
Maine installed 28,000 heat pumps between July 2020 and June 2021. In addition, 2,043 homes were weatherized in 2021 with the help of state-issued incentives.
However, insulation contractors have had trouble finding enough skilled laborers. The pace of work and level of investment would have to increase dramatically in order to meet these goals.
A report commission for the Governor’s Energy Office estimates that Maine is on track to source 45% of electricity from renewable sources this year, which puts the state on track to achieving the goal of 80% by 2030.
A major challenge is establishing precisely what changes are needed to the current electric system. Achieving Maine’s climate goals will require a major upgrade of the electric grid, which hasn’t happened since the 1970s. The Public Utilities Commission is currently conducting a comprehensive examination of the grid to determine how to best accommodate increased renewable energy and substantial growth in the electrification of the heating and transportation sectors.
The Gulf of Maine features some of the strongest and steadiest wind resources in the nation, offering massive potential to “supply Maine’s anticipated growing energy needs while supporting significant economic opportunity,” according to the 2020 “Maine Won’t Wait” report. But the Mills administration has run into significant opposition from Maine’s fishing community – and particularly lobstermen – concerned about losing access to prized fishing grounds around future offshore wind farms. Mills has pledged to work closely with the fishing community and imposed a moratorium on offshore wind development (other than the research array).
Some of the other strategies the plan lays out include more than doubling clean energy jobs to 30,000 by 2030, supporting Maine’s natural resource economies to adapt to climate change impacts, increasing carbon sequestration in Maine’s forests, and creating energy efficiency incentive programs for commercial businesses. Read more details about all of the strategies here.
How is the state funding these goals?
Funding for climate and energy priorities of “Maine Won’t Wait” was included in the state biennial budget, the Maine Jobs & Recovery Plan, the plan by Gov. Mills to allocate nearly $1 billion from the federal American Rescue Plan Act, and the federal Infrastructure and Jobs Act, which commits more than $2 billion to Maine for infrastructure improvements for climate resilience. Here’s a funding breakdown.
The state has also taken steps – or allocated resources – to make progress on other goals established in the climate action plan.
For instance, the Mills administration worked with the Legislature to earmark $40 million over four years to Land for Maine’s Future, which is the state’s hallmark land conservation program. The additional funding is expected to help move Maine closer to the goal of protecting 30 percent of the state from development. Just over 20 percent is conserved as of 2021.
Additionally, the American Rescue Plan Act as well as the recent $1.2 trillion infrastructure bill passed by Congress contain hundreds of millions of dollars for broadband expansion (which will enable more people to work from home, thereby reducing emission tied to commuting) as well as capital projects. On Dec. 1, the Mills administration also announced roughly $25 million to help municipalities and tribal governments develop or enhance their own climate action plans, to undertake climate-related projects or to strengthen infrastructure such as stormwater, wastewater treatment or drinking water.
What are the next steps?
Gov. Janet Mills established the Maine Climate Council, with bipartisan support, in June 2019. It is made up of more than 200 Mainers from a range of backgrounds – scientists, bipartisan local and state officials, industry leaders and engaged citizens.
The full council currently meets quarterly, although subcommittees on the council may meet more frequently. The council plans to update the Legislature and the public annually on progress toward the goals established in the 2020 action plan. And the council’s Scientific and Technical Subcommittee, which released its interim scientific update on Dec. 1, will provide a more comprehensive update to guide long-term decision making every four years.