Maine solar legislation is nothing like Chinese energy policy – which is a pity

“It sounds absurd, but the Chinese plan is more sensible, more cost-effective and much less draconian than the Legislature’s bill for solar power.” 

Governor Paul LePage radio address, April 20, 2016

Governor Paul LePage’s most recent attack on solar energy in Maine invoked an unlikely partner for the conservative chief executive – the Chinese Communist Party.  The governor cited China’s plan for carbon emissions reduction following his veto of a bipartisan measure designed to incentivize solar power generation in Maine – a bill supported by the environmental community, Maine’s power utilities and the office of the public advocate.

It would seem that the governor hasn’t read much beyond the headlines of China’s energy policy, which, in fact, does place a strong focus on renewable energy sources.  Like Maine, China derives a significant portion of its electricity generation from hydro power.  But it’s also making extraordinary investments in wind and solar energy.  This year, China became the world’s largest solar power generator, after increasing capacity by 50% in the space of a year.  Already home to 17.5% of the world’s solar generating capacity, China plans to triple that in the period of its current five-year plan (i.e. by 2020), bringing their capacity to 143GW.  Partly because of this home-grown demand, China produces 70% of the world’s solar panels, and employed 3.4 million people in the renewable energy sector in 2014, primarily in manufacturing.

Unlike the governor, China seems to recognize that to seize the future, you’ve got to invest. The Chinese government subsidizes grid-scale solar projects at 50-70% of the project cost.  In 2014, China invested $90 billion in renewable energy.  This pales in comparison to the mere $200,000 state investment that clean-energy advocates, private businesses, and the legislature’s public utilities committee have asked for to position Maine’s economy for the future and create 800 good-paying jobs.

Under Governor LePage, Maine’s economy is languishing while other states and countries continue to progress. Rather than thwart progress by relying on false comparisons, the governor would do well to recognize the opportunity at hand and stop standing in the way of good jobs and appropriate opportunities to leverage public dollars to secure private investment in Maine’s economy.