The nationwide movement to help people pay less for electricity, improve US energy independence, and reduce greenhouse gas emissions with community solar took another huge step forward this year as PowerMarket, and their strategic partners, surpassed 40 megawatts (MW) of total, active community solar capacity in Maine. This accomplishment positively impacts the entire global community as we strive to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees (celsius) above pre-industrial levels. However, the clearest winners are the people of Maine given community solar's unique ability to deliver direct monetary benefits to program subscribers in the form of electric bill savings. Maine's community solar program has had a meteoric rise since its creation in 2019 with the passage of LD 1711 (then subsequently expanded in 2021 with LD936). The program has since generated significant energy bill savings for Maine residents and substantial carbon emission reductions. Money in Pockets PowerMarket has been instrumental in bringing community solar's benefits to all Mainers — from residents, small businesses, and non-profits to faith-based organizations and municipalities. Since 2019, we have helped solar energy developers manage multiple projects across the state, now totaling over 40 megawatts of active solar capacity. To date, we have provided over $1.5 million in savings (and counting!) back into the pockets of local, Maine residents. Reducing Environmental Harm While community solar has clear financial benefits, these programs also have tremendous upside for the environment. Historically, utilities have relied on massive power plants that burn fossil fuels (such as coal, oil, or methane) to generate electricity. While these facilities help power our modern world, by generating vast amounts of electricity, their operation has been linked to serious, negative health and environmental issues. Power plants emit millions of tons of harmful pollutants each year according to the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). These emissions have been shown to cause lasting, adverse health effects for nearby communities (EPA) and irreparable damage to the local environment, and they exacerbate the climate crisis by increasing greenhouse gasses that collect in and warm Earth’s atmosphere. This warming effect increases the likelihood of more extreme weather events such as deadlier hurricanes (Maine Monitor), increased risk/prevalence of forest fires (News Center Maine), accelerated native species/habitat loss including Maine's iconic moose (Maine Public) and much more. Pine Tree Saviors PowerMarket’s Maine-based projects rely on hundreds of solar panels (known as an “array” or “farm”) to generate electricity without emitting harmful pollutants or greenhouse gasses. As a result, these solar farms improve regional air and water quality. Community solar arrays rarely pose any threat to trees. Why? Because community solar projects are rarely placed on prime forestlands (Columbia University). They instead tend to be sited on unused areas such as on old landfills, properties with little to no soil content, the sides of highways, over parking lots, on top of commercial buildings and in other low impact sites. When our client’s projects are land-based, their placement is prioritized in open fields, fallow farmland, backoffice lots, and other less impactful areas. The fewer obstacles to project siting (including the need to remove trees), the better: both for the local environment and for reducing overall development costs. In the very rare instance where solar arrays are located on land that was forested, developers take great care to reduce their impact and to restore natural lands to their original state whenever possible. Far Better Than Business-as-Usual Industrial scale logging for timber has a long history in the state of Maine and annual tree felling by loggers results in many more trees cut down on a per capita basis compared to community solar. The difference is truly staggering. Although some restrictions were enacted by the Maine Forest Practices Act, today's logging operations allow landowners to clearcut up to 250 acres of forest (Maine Forest Service). With a typical acre yielding 100-200 trees, this translates to a whopping 25,000-50,000 trees for one section of trees cut down by a single private entity. According to Global Forest Watch, from 2001 to 2021, Maine lost 1.01 mega hectares (Mha) of tree cover, equivalent to a 14% decrease in tree cover since 2000, and 304 megatons (Mt) of CO2 emissions with 99% of statewide tree cover loss occurring within lands where trees are harvested for profit. Meanwhile, community solar actually helps reduce the need for directly harvesting timber. It provides communities with an alternative source of income through direct jobs at the solar sites and by helping customers save money that they would otherwise pay to utilities on their monthly electricity bills. Simply put, the impact to Maine’s pine forests from community solar is staggeringly small compared to the status quo. But, even in those rarest of instances where solar farms are placed on past forest land, community solar still represents a net positive for the environment by virtue of their ability to reduce CO2 emissions more per acre than trees (Columbia). Community Solar – The Path Forward Over 5,000 Mainers are already benefiting from PowerMarket’s community solar portfolio in the state, and the positive environmental benefits of an expanding community solar industry are being felt even by those who may not yet be participants in our programs. We are proud to help open up more savings and health benefits for all Mainers as we work to unlock the state’s potential for this great industry.