Why aren’t biofuels part of the discussion in Maine energy policy?

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Despite all the public time, effort and resources devoted to “going green” in Maine energy policy, virtually no attention has been paid to an alternative that, if adopted, would immediately reduce greenhouse gas emissions in line with what the environmentalists are calling for: biofuels. How come?

For some reason, environmental groups have gone all-in on wind and solar while totally overlooking the potential of biofuels. Maine’s abundant forestry industry could be used to make biofuels, which would make the energy transition environmental groups are calling for (and lawmakers are enacting) much more realistic than the full electrification agenda coming out of Gov. Janet Mills’ energy office. 

Overview of Biofuels

Biofuels are renewable fuels created from organic matter, such as wood, plants, algae, and animal fats. Unlike fossil fuels, which are formed from dead animals and plants buried underground for millions of years, biofuels are produced from organic materials. This distinction makes biofuels a renewable and sustainable energy source.

Typically, biomass undergoes a high-temperature conversion process in the presence of steam or oxygen, known as gasification, to produce hydrogen gas. This hydrogen is then refined and converted into liquid fuels like biodiesel or biogas through various conditioning methods. These biofuels can effectively replace or supplement petroleum-based gases in engines to provide a renewable and more environmentally friendly alternative to traditional fossil fuels. Unfortunately, lawmakers appear to be blind to this fact and continue their push to electrify everything. 

Maine’s Potential for Biofuel Production

Maine is the most forested state in the US, which makes biofuel a great alternative. By tapping into the state’s natural forests, we could produce sustainable biofuels locally. Biofuels would offer the state with a renewable energy source which is both practical and more environmentally friendly than the status quo, since biofuels produce a lower life cycle of greenhouse gas compared to fossil fuels. And considering biofuels work in engines and other systems we already use today, the barrier to entry for the average consumer is much lower than purchasing a new electric vehicle or heat pump, for example.   

Biofuel Adoption

Despite Maine’s comprehensive climate plan identifying biofuels as an option in the state’s energy transition, Maine has done little to promote biofuel production and instead has done everything it can to prop up other forms of energy. 

Programs such as the federal National Electric Vehicle Infrastructure Program have only further bolstered support for electrification. This focus on electrification from left-leaning politicians has led to substantial financial and policy support, including infrastructure investments, tax credits for electric vehicle purchases, and rebates for installing charging stations at the state and federal levels. Similar incentives exist for heat pump installation and other electrification initiatives in Maine. These measures have created an unequal playing field on the energy front.

In contrast, biofuel adoption has not been similarly incentivized. No significant tax incentives or subsidies have been directed towards biofuels. This absence of sufficient support undermines any potential for biofuels to offer a practical and cost-effective solution where electrification is not possible or unwanted by consumers.

Maine’s limited action on biofuel adoption may stem from a stronger federal push towards electrification. However, this oversight causes Maine to miss the opportunity to diversify the state’s renewable energy portfolio.

To be clear, no form of energy production should need government support to be competitive. However, it’s worth asking why the environmentalists are so committed to electrification if there’s a product we could be using today that would help us meet their stated goals.

Conclusion

As Maine moves forward with ”going green,” biofuels have been left out of the discussion. Since climate activists are calling for immediate action, it begs the question why they have glommed onto expensive, unrealistic energy options where the technology is not sufficiently developed to compete in a free and fair market. 

If combating climate change was the real goal rather than enriching favored industries and interests, Maine would be doing far more to explore where biofuels fit into the equation of the state’s energy transition. 

Afua Kwarteng is a graduate student at the University of Maine pursuing a dual MBA and Global Policy degree. She graduated from the University of Ghana with a BA in Political Science and Swahili. She is passionate about state and international policy and is serving as Maine Policy Institute’s 2024 communications intern.