Policy Documents

Research & Commentary: Solar Power in Maine

April 11, 2014

The State of Maine is considering two proposals to provide greater incentives for solar power. The first would reinstate funding for the state’s solar and wind energy rebate program, which provides rebates for the purchase of certain solar and wind energy equipment; the second would establish goals for solar energy generation in the state. Government promotion of solar power development, proponents claim, will result in greater health and well-being for Maine residents and the environment.

Today, solar power produces only about 0.2 percent of the nation’s electricity, despite decades of favorable policy initiatives. The National Conference of State Legislatures says most large, utility-scaled solar installations still cost about 35 percent more than electricity from natural gas plants, and many other experts estimate the levelized cost is even higher.

Given the undeniable fact that the sun doesn’t always shine in the same places, solar power requires backup power, and even more transmission capacity per unit of energy generated than wind power. Solar power is also very land-intensive, requiring approximately 40 square miles of solar development to produce as much power (intermittently) as a single conventional power plant does.

An ample amount of evidence indicates physical limitations, not lack of money, have prevented solar power from scaling up and becoming competitive in an open marketplace. These limitations provide solar little or no chance in competing with the affordable and reliable power produced from coal, natural gas, nuclear, and hydroelectricity, each of which has far greater energy density, which allows it to consume far less land.

According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, Maine has the most energy-intensive economy in New England. Remarkably, Maine is still among the 10 states with the lowest carbon dioxide emissions. A big factor is that half of Maine’s new electricity generation comes from renewable sources, primarily hydroelectricity, with most of the rest produced by natural gas.

Energy-intensive economies such as Maine’s are particularly sensitive to the increased electricity rates that would result from introducing alternative energy sources to the grid before they are ready. Maine would be better served by rolling back existing market-interfering programs, such as renewable portfolio standards and net metering, instead of introducing new ones.

The following documents provide additional information about solar power.

 

Ten Principles of Energy Policy
http://heartland.org/policy-documents/ten-principles-energy-policy
Heartland Institute President Joseph Bast outlines the ten most important principles for policymakers confronting energy issues, providing guidance to help deal with ongoing changes in markets, technology, and policies adopted in other states, supported by a thorough bibliography. 

Hard Facts: An Energy Primer
http://heartland.org/policy-documents/hard-facts-energy-primer
On page 30 of this 102-page publication from the Institute for Energy Research, Director of Regulatory and State Affairs Daniel Simmons extrapolates data from the U.S. Energy Information Administration to offer a primer on coal production and use. 

Energy 101: Solar PV
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0elhIcPVtKE
This short video produced by the U.S. Department of Energy depicts how solar electricity is generated and how operators plan to improve efficiency and environmental friendliness. 

Testimony of James Taylor—Washington State Senate Energy, Environment & Telecommunications Committee
http://heartland.org/policy-documents/testimony-james-taylor-washington-state-senate-energy-environment-telecommunication
Heartland Institute Senior Fellow James M. Taylor testifies before the Washington Senate Energy, Environment, and Telecommunications committee during a January 2014 work session to discuss solar power. Taylor argues the costs of solar power greatly outweigh the benefits for myriad reasons. 

IER Expert Testifies on Ohio’s Alternative Energy Standard
http://heartland.org/policy-documents/ier-expert-testifies-ohios-alternative-energy-standard
Testimony prepared by Travis Fisher, an economist at the Institute for Energy Research, examines the natural physical limitations of wind and solar power, arguing they might not be the technologies of the future simply because of a lack of scalability rather than a lack of subsidies. 

How Wind and Solar Power Are Polluting the Commons
http://seekingalpha.com/article/938671-how-wind-and-solar-power-are-polluting-the-commons
Private lawyer and accountant John Petersen states our electric grid is an essential commons no less important to an industrial society than our air or water. Regarding renewable power, he writes, “the electric current they generate is inherently unreliable and intermittent, which makes it fundamentally destabilizing to the grid. That introduction of massive intermittency into a system that requires absolute stability is, by definition, pollution.”

Hot on the Horizon
http://www.ncsl.org/bookstore/state-legislatures-magazine/hot-on-the-horizon.aspx#8
A January 2014 article from the National Conference of State Legislatures discusses emerging state legislative trends including “affordable solar energy.” 

Stimulating Green Electric Dreams: Lobbying, Cronyism and Section 1705
http://heartland.org/policy-documents/stimulating-green-electric-dreams-lobbying-cronyism-and-section-1705
This paper from the Reason Foundation delves into the fiscally unwise and ostensibly virtuous process by which the U.S. Department of Energy systematically made loan guarantees to several failed renewable energy companies, primarily solar. Further investigation by the Reason Foundation found the DOE allocated funds in proportion to each recipient’s lobbying expenditures, revealing merit was never considered before making poor “investment” decisions using taxpayer dollars. 

A Cost-Effective Bridge to Florida’s Energy Future
http://heartland.org/policy-documents/cost-effective-bridge-floridas-energy-future
Heartland Institute Senior Fellow James M. Taylor examines Florida’s energy portfolio and outlook in this September 2009 paper for The James Madison Institute. Taylor concludes efficient use of traditional sources is necessary to the development of alternative sources, given the track record of cheap energy in spurring technological innovation.

 

Nothing in this Research & Commentary is intended to influence the passage of legislation, and it does not necessarily represent the views of The Heartland Institute. For further information on this and other topics, visit the Environment & Climate News Web site at http://news.heartland.org/energy-and-environment, The Heartland Institute’s Web site at http://www.heartland.org, and PolicyBot, Heartland’s free online research database, at www.policybot.org.

 

If you have any questions about this issue or The Heartland Institute, contact Heartland Institute Policy Analyst Taylor Smith at tsmith@heartland.org or 312/377-4000.