In the past few decades, Maine has undergone a clean power revolution. In 2000, the state got nearly half its electricity from fossil fuels—natural gas, oil, and coal. But by 2021, the state was getting over 70% of its power from renewable energy sources. Its electricity is some of the cleanest in the entire nation.
However, the Pine Tree State has a lot of room for improvement in other areas, such as heating. Over 70% of Maine homes are heated with petroleum products, more than in any other state. For the state to free itself from fossil fuel dependence, building decarbonization will be one of its biggest challenges.
Maine’s shift toward renewable energy began in 2000. Up until then, electric utilities had both generated and supplied power in the state. The 2000 Restructuring Act split those functions up. State-regulated utilities remained in charge of electric transmission, but production was deregulated. This opened up the retail electric market to more suppliers, including clean energy sources.
More clean-energy legislation followed over the next decade. In 2004, the state established its first Renewable Portfolio Standard (RPS). It set a goal for 30.5% of Maine’s electricity to come from renewable sources by 2020 and 50% by 2030. In 2007, the state entered the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI). This is an alliance of 11 Eastern states seeking to reduce their carbon emissions through a “cap and invest” program. Large fossil fuel plants purchase allowances for the greenhouse gases they emit, and the money goes toward clean energy investments.
Maine’s 2008 Wind Energy Act set ambitious goals for wind energy production in the state. The state aimed to install 2000 megawatts (MW) of wind capacity by 2015, 3000 by 2020, and 8,000 by 2030. This target included 5,000 MW of offshore wind. And in 2011, Maine established its first net metering policy. This enabled home and business owners with solar panels to receive credit for the excess energy they produce.
With net metering, owners of grid-connected renewable energy systems earn credit for the energy they send to the grid. Unlike many states, Maine requires utilities to pay for this power at the full retail rate. Whenever you’re producing more energy than you’re using, your electric meter runs backward, lowering your electric bill. Typically, your solar installer makes the arrangements for net metering while setting up your system.
Installing solar or residential wind increases the value of your property. However, in the Pine Tree State, it won’t increase your property taxes. State laws exempt these improvements from taxation, saving the average homeowner $220 a year. That adds up to $4,400 over the 20-year lifespan of a typical home solar installation.
Maine homeowners also qualify for the federal Investment Tax Credit on new solar setups. If you install your system before 2032, you can claim 30% of the cost as a credit on your taxes. This credit will fall to 26% of the cost in 2033 and 22% in 2034.
Low-income households can get additional help paying for solar through the Property Assessed Clean Energy (PACE) program. It offers qualifying homeowners loans with little or no down payment and below-average interest rates. The PACE program is open to all households that use state benefits programs such as MaineCare or SNAP. Households can also qualify based on their income or property value. You can check your eligibility and apply for PACE at Efficiency Maine.
Maine has yet to meet the goals of the 2008 Wind Energy Act. However, the state had over 1,000 megawatts (MW) of wind energy capacity in mid-2022. This supplied almost one-quarter of the power generated in the state and two-thirds of all wind power in New England.
Maine’s solar capacity is smaller but growing fast. From 2019 through 2022, it rose from under 100 MW to 557 MW. The bulk of this comes from distributed generation. That term refers to individual homes, businesses, and small community solar farms producing under 5 MW each. Together with larger solar farms, these facilities provided about 3% of the power generated in Maine in 2021.
Wind and solar aren’t the only significant renewable energy sources in Maine. The state produces over 25% of its electricity from hydropower—a bigger share than any state except Vermont. The Pine Tree State had 51 hydropower plants in 2022, some of them over a century old. The state also generates 20% of its power from biomass, mainly wood and wastes derived from wood. And in 2014, an offshore turbine in Maine became the nation’s first source of tidal power.
From 2000 through 2020, Maine slightly reduced its use of natural gas to produce electricity. The share of electricity produced with natural gas dropped from 22% to 19%. This change helped the state cut its greenhouse gas emissions to 25% below their 1990 levels in 2019. This surpassed the state’s goal of a 10% cut by 2020.
So far, the state is on track to reach its new goal of cutting emissions 45% by 2030. However, there was a troubling uptick in natural gas use in 2021. As a result, the state’s electricity mix dropped from 79% renewable to 72%. To meet its goals, Maine must reverse this trend by expanding clean energy faster.
In 2021, Maine’s clean energy sector supplied nearly 14,000 jobs in the state. That’s more than half of the roughly 25,000 jobs in Maine’s entire energy sector. And the renewable energy field is growing fast. From 2016 through 2019, clean energy jobs increased by 11% while Maine’s economy as a whole grew just 3%.
The majority of clean energy jobs—around 8,000—were in energy efficiency: helping homes and businesses run on less power. Renewable power generation supplied jobs for another 2,800 workers. Other clean energy fields include grid modernization and energy storage, renewable fuels, and alternative transportation.
Maine’s current governor, Janet Mills, has enacted a flurry of new energy and environmental laws since taking office in 2019. These include:
At present, solar energy supplies only a small percentage of Maine’s electricity. But there’s been rapid growth in this field over the past two years, especially for community solar. As of November 2021, there were 31 community solar projects online and hundreds in the queue waiting to connect. The biggest challenge to Maine’s solar future is getting all these projects hooked up to the grid. Over the past few years, the state has witnessed major delays In community solar hookups. There are several factors to blame, including ambiguities in the law, interconnection problems with utilities, and lack of grid capacity. Overcoming these difficulties will be key to expanding solar energy in the Pine Tree State.