Home to a population of 1,354,522, Maine remains one of the least populated states in the nation. However, what it lacks in population, it makes up in size. Maine has a total area of approximately 33,215 square miles, almost as large as all of the other New England states combined. Maine is rightly called the Pine Tree State. With deciduous forests in the south and boreal forests in the north, 90% of Maine’s land is tree-covered. Though it’s usually thought of for its lobsters, Maine actually supplies 99% of the nation’s blueberries! Maine is getting warmer —fast. Temperatures in the state have been steadily rising since records began in 1890. However, more recently, the warming has been speeding up. Since 1960 Maine has been warming at nearly twice the rate. Warming is also associated with shorter winters.
Maine is also getting wetter with precipitation increasing by 15% since 1895, coming in the form of more rain and less snow. Added to extreme weather events, especially along Maine’s coast, runoffs are accelerating to streams and rivers, which impact drinking water. Flooding, wind, and other consequences of this weather cause significant damage to roads, bridges, and properties. A good example of this is the storm in October 2017, the worst in Maine’s history. During that storm, almost a half million people lost electricity due to damaged power lines which ultimately cost $69 million dollars.
Maine’s shorter winters and more extreme rain events are associated with greater tick and mosquito activity and abundance. With more of these insects come more insect-transmitted disease not just affecting humans, but also harming populations of endangered species such as Maine moose. Rising sea levels are also challenging Maine. The Gulf of Maine is especially susceptible to fluctuations in sea level due to alterations in the strength of the Gulf Stream and seasonal wind patterns. For example, in Portland, the city with the longest records, the edge of the water has risen 7.5 inches since record-keeping began in 1912. High sealines mean more coastal flooding, which is threatening an estimated 198 miles of Maine roadway and more than 1,200 homes. Tidal flooding caused by sea level rise already has eroded $70 million in coastal real estate value within the state. The risk of storm surge extends many miles inland from the immediate coastline in some areas. More than 20 percent of flood insurance claims come from outside high-risk areas, and even people living in “low risk” areas have been advised to obtain flood insurance.
In June of 2019, Maine passed three pieces of major climate legislation that focus on renewable energy, clean energy jobs, and the general fight against climate change. The bills established the Maine Climate Council, which is charged with reducing the state greenhouse gas emissions by 45% below 1990 levels by 2030, and by 80% by 2050. The Council will also tackle Maine’s energy portfolio makeup with a goal of 100% renewable energy usage by 2050. Along with these hefty objectives, the Council is responsible for the creation of incentives for energy-efficient heating and use of solar panels, as well as the creation of more climate-friendly jobs. The bills gave Maine one of the most ambitious renewable portfolio standard programs in the country.
Before these three bills, Maine had already passed laws to increase the number of electric vehicles, establish goals for the installation of 100,000 energy-efficient heat pumps in homes and businesses state-wide, build an off-shore wind farm, create a Commission to review and evaluate the benefits of energy storage and make policy suggestions for Maine, support the creation and use of clean energy technologies, prepare for the effects of sea level rise, and provide tax clarity for renewable energy facilities.
Maine is well on its way to its 2019 renewable energy goals. According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, 80% of Maine’s in-state electricity net generation came from renewable resources in 2019. The state’s energy is approximately 30% hydroelectric, 25% biomass, and almost 25% wind. Although Maine’s energy consumption is only 25% wind, Maine produces two-thirds of all the wind power used in New England. Around 16% of the rest of Maine’s energy comes from natural gas. Maine’s tree cover is what makes it a national leader in biofuels, deriving a lot of its bioenergy from its forests. Solar, petroleum, and coal power make up 2% of Maine’s energy, and the last 3% comes from facilities that primarily burn black liquor waste from pulp mills or municipal and other solid waste materials.
The weather in Maine varies significantly across the state with temperatures that range from the triple digits in the south during the summer to minus 50°F in the far north in winter. For this reason, Maine uses a lot of energy heating and cooling. Heating needs during the frigid winters, along with the energy consumption in the state’s transportation and industrial sectors, give Maine the highest per capita energy use in New England.
From an electricity perspective, Maine’s residential sector accounts for two fifths of all energy consumed in the state, the industrial sector one fourth, and the commercial sector one third.
In what environmental advocates called an important step forward for climate justice, Maine became, in June 2021, the first state to commit through legislation to divest from fossil fuel companies after Gov. Janet Mills signed LD 99, into law directing the $17 billion Maine Public Employee Retirement System to divest $1.3 billion from fossil fuels within five years” and directs the state treasurer to “do the same with other state funds.” The bill was amended to grant the retirement system some flexibility in pursuing a gradual divestment from fossil fuels. “It lines up with our Climate Council work and bipartisan emission reduction goals set by the governor and the legislature,” Representative Margaret O’Neil added, referring to the state’s action plan to decrease greenhouse gas emissions 45 percent by 2030 and 80 percent by 2050.
Maine is one of twenty-four states, plus Puerto Rico, participating in the U.S. Climate Alliance, a bipartisan coalition of governors committed to reducing greenhouse gas emissions consistent with the goals of the Paris Agreement.