Maine is the least densely populated state east of the Mississippi River. The state is home to both coastal cities and Northwest Aroostook, a territory with less than one resident per 100 square miles. A majority of the state’s population lives in rural areas. More than five-sixths of Maine is still forested, and forest products are both a major, energy-intensive industry and a major biomass resource supplying wood-derived fuels such as wood pellets.
Maine is largely rural and forested and has the most energy-intensive economy in New England.
Maine is the easternmost state, rising from its jagged Atlantic coastline to include the northern terminus of the Appalachian Trail at Mt. Katahdin. Maine weather varies significantly between the ocean-moderated coast, the southern interior, and the northern interior bordering Quebec and New Brunswick. Recorded temperatures have ranged from 103 degrees Fahrenheit on the coast in the summer to minus 50 degrees in the far north in the winter. Industrial and transportation consumption, along with heating needs during the northern winter, give Maine the highest per capita energy usage in New England. Maine also has the most energy-intensive economy in New England. Maine’s industrial sector accounts for nearly one-third of state energy consumption. Maine is the only New England state in which industry is the leading energy-consuming sector. Although traditional industries such as forest products, leather, and textiles have declined, electronics manufacturing and service industries like health care and tourism are growing.
Nine-tenths of Maine’s renewable generation comes from hydroelectric dams and wood-based biomass.
Hydroelectric dams and biomass from wood products, which together account for nine-tenths of Maine’s renewable electricity generation, provide more than half of Maine’s net total electricity generation. Biomass alone accounts for more than one-fourth of generation, the largest share of any state, placing Maine among the top U.S. producers of electricity from wood and wood waste-derived fuels, such as wood pellets. The state has the highest generation per capita of electricity from biomass in the nation, although recent low petroleum and natural gas prices have have reduced demand for wood fuels and led to some biomass plant closures. Use of wood and wood pellets for home and commercial heating increases in Maine when the price of home heating oil rises.
Hydroelectric turbines produce nearly one-fourth of Maine’s net electricity generation, the largest share of any state east of the Mississippi River except Vermont. Water-powered mills were built on Maine’s many rivers to run its earliest industries, and, when electricity became available in the late 1800s, small hydroelectric dams were built all over the state. By the mid-1980s, the state was home to 782 dams. A few dams have since been removed to restore natural river flows and fish migrations. Recently, Maine hydroelectric dam owners and conservationists have reached agreements to increase turbine generating capacity at some dams while tearing down others.
In 1999, as part of electricity market restructuring, Maine regulators set a renewable portfolio standard (RPS) requiring that at least 30% of retail electricity sales come from renewable sources, although state electricity distributors had already surpassed that goal. In 2006, the legislature added a second, separate RPS that requires new renewable resources to supply increasing shares of electricity sales, topping out at 10% in 2017. New hydroelectric generation must be smaller than 100 megawatts to count toward the second RPS. The state legislature has debated lifting that limit to allow more hydroelectric imports from Canada. So far, electricity providers have been found in compliance with the RPS.
Maine leads New England in wind generation. Wind produced one-tenth of the state’s net electricity in 2015. At the end of 2015, Maine had 611 megawatts of wind capacity online. The state’s largest wind facility, the 148-megawatt Oakfield project in Aroostook County, began operation in late 2015. Most new renewable generating resources planned in New England are wind-powered, and many of those projects are in Maine. Maine has significant wind resources along crests of Appalachian ranges in the state’s northwest and along its Atlantic coastline. The Maine legislature set goals of installing 2,000 megawatts of wind capacity in the state by 2015, 3,000 megawatts by 2020 (with at least 300 megawatts offshore), and 8,000 megawatts by 2030 (with at least 5,000 megawatts offshore). The 2015 goal was not met. The 2020 goal is still considered feasible, although proposed projects have encountered some local opposition. The first application for wind turbines in federal waters off the coast of Maine was filed in 2011, and a floating grid-connected test turbine was installed in 2013, but financial issues have delayed proposed off-shore wind projects.
Also located on the Maine coast is the first U.S. tidal power generating facility to produce electricity, a pilot project in Cobscook Bay. Plans are under way to expand the tidal project to 5 megawatts. Maine has no utility-scale solar photovoltaic (PV) generation, but about 20 megawatts of distributed solar PV panels are installed on homes and businesses and produced about 0.1% of the state’s power in 2015. A 50-megawatt solar PV project is in development for the Sanford, Maine, airport. If built, it would be New England’s largest solar generator. Because of concerns about the cost of new technologies, New England governors are exploring regional procurement of renewable resources, primarily wind, to meet state RPS goals more economically.
Renewables produce more than half of Maine’s net electricity generation.
In 2015, two-thirds of Maine’s net electricity generation came from renewable sources, primarily hydroelectric dams and biomass generators using wood waste products, and another one-fourth was generated by natural gas. The rest of Maine’s net generation comes from wind and petroleum, with less than 1% produced by coal and solar power.Maine’s largest electricity generating plant, the 811-megawatt William F. Wyman station, uses No. 2 fuel oil. The state power supply has undergone a substantial shift since the early 1990s, when one-third of net electricity generation came from the Maine Yankee nuclear power station and another one-fifth from petroleum. Maine Yankee was decommissioned in 1997, leaving the state with no nuclear generation. Petroleum-fueled generation has decreased to less than 5% of supply and is used mainly as a backup fuel to meet peak winter demand.However, with only two small industrial generating plants burning coal, Maine is one of the few states to get more electricity from petroleum than from coal. Most new non-renewable electricity generation being planned in Maine, as in all of New England, is fueled by natural gas, but most of the new generation will be able to burn fuel oil as well, so generators can switch when natural gas is not available or not economic.
The industrial sector produces more than one-fifth of Maine’s net electricity generation, the highest proportion of any state except Louisiana. The industrial sector uses primarily natural gas and biomass to generate power. Maine has the lowest average electricity rates in New England, in part because of its low industrial sector rates.Per capita residential electricity use in Maine is below the national average. Only about 1 in 20 households use electricity as the primary energy source for home heating, and, with the state’s mild summers, household use of air conditioning is low.
Maine restructured its electricity industry in 2000 and allows retail electric competition. Competitive providers initially focused on commercial and industrial customers, but now many offer supply to the residential market. Maine allows net metering for renewables and high-efficiency combined-heat-and-power facilities for generators up to 660 kilowatts. Maine is part of the regional transmission operator, Independent System Operator New England (ISO-NE), except in the northern part of the state where the power system is connected to the Canadian grid. Maine is a member of the northeastern Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative to limit carbon emissions from power generation. With its limited use of coal and petroleum for electricity, Maine is among the 10 states with the lowest carbon emissions.
Maine’s natural gas consumption per capita is about 60% of the national average. About two-fifths of Maine’s natural gas is used in electricity generation and another two-fifths by industry. Five of Maine’s 10 largest electricity generating stations are fueled with natural gas. Only about 1 in 20 Maine households use natural gas as their primary heating fuel, in part because many areas of Maine lack natural gas distribution systems. Where natural gas service is available, constraints on pipeline delivery capacity have led to price spikes during winter demand peaks, when residences and businesses compete with electricity generators for available natural gas supply, and average natural gas and electricity prices have both risen as a result.
Maine does not produce natural gas and depends almost entirely on Canadian imports. Natural gas enters Maine via pipelines from New Hampshire and Canada,but the New Hampshire line carries mainly Canadian natural gas. In recent years, Canadian supplies to New England have been buoyed by major natural gas discoveries off the Nova Scotia coast and by the opening of the Canaport liquefied natural gas terminal at St. John, New Brunswick. A pipeline carries natural gas from Canaport to markets in Maine, New Hampshire, and Massachusetts.
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