Maine's Energy Future: What the Research Suggests

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On April 1, 2014, Maine's Sustainability Solutions Initiative at the Senator George J. Mitchell Center presented a daylong session on "Maine's Energy Future" at the 2014 Maine Water & Sustainability Conference, held at the Augusta Civic Center. The Chair of the session was Dr. Caroline Noblet, University of Maine School of Economics.

This session examined Maine’s energy future and the different options and strategies being proposed and implemented to further the state’s energy security. Presentations included research and applications related to the economic, environmental and social impacts of: renewable energy technologies under development in Maine including tidal, off-shore wind and bioenergy; the transition from reliance on oil; the role of efficiency in lowering energy needs and the potential for using Maine’s biomass and waste stream.


The first speaker of the day was Dr. Jonathan Rubin of the Margaret Chase Smith Center and School of Economics, University of Maine. His talk was entitled, "Reforming Maine’s Gasoline Tax for Economic and Environmental Sustainability".

The historic method of funding the our nation’s roadway infrastructure is from excise taxes levied on gasoline and diesel. The federal excise tax (per gallon) for gasoline and diesel has been constant at $0.184 and $0.240 since 1997. For Maine the rates are $0.300 and $0.312.

According to Rubin, this method of funding is increasingly not sustainable environmentally nor fiscally, requiring general tax revenues (at both the federal and state level) to subsidiize the highway trust funds. This fiscal non-sustainability is primarily due to an increase in the fuel efficiency of new vehicles, an increase in the number of grid-connected hybrid or pure electric vehicles, and per-gallon rates of taxation that are not keeping up with the costs of construction.

The environmental and welfare non-sustainability is due to the mismatch between the rates of taxation per gallon of fuel and social costs which accrue per mile driven that depend on location, time of day and fuel type (gasoline v. electricity). Rubin presented research data for Maine (where we are and where we are headed in terms of our fiscal gap) and look at best practices and recommendations from several state pilot programs (Oregon, Nevada, Washington, California) that are looking at vehicle mileage travelled (VMT) taxation. The research highlighted how environmental and social costs (GHG emissions, congestion) are influenced by the form of taxation (per-gallon excise tax v. VMT tax).

FMI contact Dr. Jonathan Rubin.


The second speaker was Michael Stoddard, Director of the Efficiency Maine Trust. He spoke about the role for energy efficiency in Maine’s energy future.

In 2012, Efficiency Maine commissioned an independent study of the 10-year potential for energy efficiency to satisfy the needs of Maine’s electricity system at a lower cost than traditional supply. It found that Maine’s “Maximum Achievable Cost-Effective” (MACE) energy efficiency potential would lower electricity costs and meet up to 16% of its total electricity needs. This sets the standard for the three-year strategic plan approved by the Maine PUC in 2013 and now being implemented by Efficiency Maine.

Complementing electricity saving initiatives, Efficiency Maine’s recent programs show that homes and businesses can consistently save more than 20% of their heating costs by investing in insulation and high-efficiency heating systems. These results clearly demonstrate that energy efficiency is the lowest cost energy resource in Maine, that it can satisfy a significant portion of Maine’s future energy needs, and that it reduces environmental impacts from our energy use.

Energy efficiency also expands the potential for renewable energy as an energy resource. Efficiency Maine’s current program offerings, and recent program results, offer a range of case studies on how this resource can help lower costs for water and sewer districts, municipalities, manufacturers, small businesses and homeowners and enhance the sustainability of Maine’s energy future.

FMI visit Efficiency Maine online.


The day's third topic was Community and Policy Research on Tidal Energy Development in Maine, presented by Jessica S. Jansujwicz, Sustainability Solutions Initiative, University of Maine, Orono and Teresa Johnson of the School of Marine Sciences & Sustainability Solutions Initiative at the University of Maine Orono.

Marine hydrokinetic (MHK) energy offers a promising new source of renewable ocean energy. However, regulatory uncertainty and social acceptance may constrain industry development. The Human Dimensions Team of the Maine Tidal Power Initiative is conducting research to understand the regulatory and permitting process for MHK development and the factors influencing community acceptability.

Research has focused on Ocean Renewable Power Company’s (ORPC’s) Cobscook Bay Tidal Energy Project (CBTEP). This project is the first functioning commercial MHK project in the U.S, and is recognized as having a high level of community support. Using observations, interviews, focus groups, and a mail survey, the research team examined community perspectives of the CBTEP.

They found an emphasis on direct benefits, indirect benefits, “hopeful” benefits, and potential costs associated with the project. Community stakeholders and fishermen generally perceived ORPC’s approach as effective; they noted the company’s accessibility and their efforts to engage them early and often. Through observations and interviews with regulators and developers, researchers identified four institutional factors important for supporting regulatory and permitting decisions: (1) experimentation and learning, (2) institutionalized choice to correct avoidable error, (3) a commitment to interagency coordination, and (4) an emphasis on early proactive engagement with developers.

The team also identified institutional challenges that may hamper MHK development. These included conflicting agency cultures, high financial costs, and long timeframes associated with baseline data collection. Lessons learned from this study can assist regulators, policymakers, and developers move new renewable ocean energy development forward in a way that is socially acceptable and environmentally responsible.

FMI contact Jessica Jansujwicz.


The fourth topic was a study done on risk perception and relevance of timber harvesting for bioenergy production: a qualitative examination of private woodland owners. This study was done by the following 5 researchers:

Emily J. Silver, School of Forest Resources, University of Maine, Orono;
Jessica E. Leahy, School of Forest Resources, University of Maine, Orono;
Aaron R. Weiskittel, School of Forest Resources, University of Maine, Orono;
Caroline L. Noblet, School of Economics, University of Maine, Orono and
David Kittredge, Department of Environmental Conservation, University of Massachusetts, Amherst, MA.

Predicting and understanding timber supply is one central component to the viability of the bioenergy industry. Available timber supply from private woodland owners is difficult to estimate because complex behavioral theory informs the owner’s decision to harvest. The decision-making environment consists of exogenous market factors, internal cognitive processes, and social interactions.

This study seeks to understand the cognitive and social factors influencing the decision to harvest timber. Two specific cognitive mechanisms, risk perception and relevance, are more thoroughly investigated. Thirty semi-structured interviews were conducted with private woodland owners, who had previously harvested timber, had never harvested timber, and had harvested timber for woody biomass markets.

Owners were also asked to build a cognitive map or timeline of their decision-making process. Results indicate that owners frame risk in terms of concerns for their woodlot in four broad categories: economic, aesthetic, environmental, and social. Importantly, economic concerns are typically considered at the very end of the decision-making process. Owners expressed a willingness to supply timber for biomass, but unfamiliarity with biomass markets.

Finally, timber harvesting was cited as less relevant to daily life than other land management decisions, and therefore may not be an area to apply traditional social psychological theories of intention and behavior. These results help provide insight to available timber supply for the bioenergy industry. Furthermore, the incorporation of risk and relevance in the study of private woodland owners contributes new information on decision-making and associated land use impacts.

FMI contact Emily Silver.


The fifth talk was entitled, "A Sustainability Assessment of Drop-In Biofuels in Maine". Researchers contributing to this work were:

Stephanie Whalley, Ecology and Environmental Science, University of Maine;
Binod Neupane, Ecology and Environmental Science, University of Maine;
Sharon Klein, School of Economics, University of Maine and
Jonathan Rubin, School of Economics, University of Maine.

As the United States looks to decrease reliance on fossil fuels by increasing the use of renewable energy, forest biomass has received increased attention as a possible biofuel feedstock. Maine’s high level of forestation makes it a strong candidate for bioenergy projects. Biofuel production requires careful sustainability analysis that compares the tradeoffs between the environmental, economic and social costs and benefits.

This study develops a decision support system to model different decision variables on environmental and socio-economic aspects of the drop-in biofuel technology, which is compatible with existing transportation infrastructure, developed at the University of Maine.

The research team estimated the total energy and emissions flows across the life cycle of the drop-in fuel supply chain. The Greenhouse Gases, Regulated Emissions, and Energy Use in Transportation (GREET) life cycle analysis model is used to examine energy, criteria pollutants and greenhouse gases emissions.

The cost of harvesting biomass and transporting it to the biorefinery gate are estimated using the stumpage price paid to the landowner, the cost of harvesting and the transportation cost through an integrated program using Maine specific cost information, stand data and harvest productivity equations. Critical criteria and indicators for the social sustainability of this biofuel technology were also developed.

The team integrated environmental, economic and social metrics in a multi-criteria decision analysis (MCDA) of drop-in biofuels. The MCDA optimizes the overall economic, environmental and social sustainability of the drop-in fuel supply chain. The model they have developed can also serve as a template to analyze similar technologies and supply chains.

FMI contact Stephanie Whalley.


Next came the question, "How Can Maine’s Organic Wastes Resources be Part of a Sustainable Energy Future?". This work was presented by Maggie Finn from the North East Biosolids and Residuals Association in Tamworth, NH and Mac Richardson of the Lewiston Auburn Water Pollution Control Authority.

In 2013, the Lewiston Auburn Water Pollution Control Authority (LAWPCA) became the first municipal Water Resources Recovery Facility (WRRF) in Maine to install anaerobic digestion. Anaerobic digestion was chosen to reduce biosolids volume at an anticipated savings of $600,000/year, while producing digester gas that can be used to generate electrical power.

Methane, a byproduct of the anaerobic digestion of organic matter, is a greenhouse gas with 21 times the potency of carbon dioxide. The methane, which burns much like natural gas, fuels two (230 kilowatt) generators expected to provide two thirds of the electricity needed to run the LAWPCA wastewater treatment facility.

Formerly the largest electrical user in Lewiston-Auburn, LAWPCA is now a significant source of renewable power. Heat, another byproduct of anaerobic digestion is also recovered and reused at the facility. Biosolids generated are diverted from landfills by processing at the LAWPCA compost facility resulting in production of a renewable fertilizer product and further reducing environmental impact.

Maine currently recycles 74% of its biosolids, a better record than any other New England state. Maine is like many other states in that it recycles very little of its food residuals. Nationally we throw away about 40% of all food produced. Various food-based residuals are being trialed for anaerobic digestion at LAWPCA.

Initial results show that the added food wastes increase methane production and electrical generation while enhancing the volume reduction experienced in anaerobic digestion. There is a unique opportunity to use the established infrastructure and experience of Maine’s wastewater community to solve both environmental and energy issues with this proven technology.

Further diversion of organic food residuals from landfills to anaerobic digestion could provide renewable energy, landfill conservation, reduced greenhouse gas pollution and sustainable economic benefits.

FMI contact Maggie Finn.


The final presentation of the day was given by Michelle Debartolo-Stone and Dr. Caroline Noblet, Assistant Professor at the School of Economics and Sustainability Solutions Initiative, University of Maine Orono.

This presentation will provide results of analysis of a statewide survey, which asked Mainers what they thought and understood about our renewable energy portfolio.

The purpose of the survey was to document current knowledge of, and perceptions toward Maine’s renewable energy portfolio and energy efficiency and determine what factors drive people’s perceptions of renewable energy and efficiency.

The survey effort consisted of twelve different versions distributed to 8,000 Maine citizens during summer 2013. The analysis focused on preferences of Maine citizens for various options in Maine’s energy portfolio, and the factors that drive these perceptions, including spatial distribution.

Researchers also analyzed responses to a policy choice experiment where Maine citizens are asked to contribute towards a fund for renewable energy &/or energy efficiency, and then select the allocation of their contribution between various energy portfolio options.

To learn more, contact Dr. Caroline Noblet.

This day-long session was chaired by:
Dr. Caroline Noblet
Assistant Professor of Economics
University of Maine
Office: 207 Winslow
Phone: (207) 581-3172

Visit the event website.