Centerpiece, Environment

Power play

As is the case all over the country, electric utilities in Maine are increasingly being confronted with problems that could be solved by using sources like solar and wind. But “there’s a whole cultural shift that would have to occur” for that to happen, says David Littell, former commissioner of the Maine Public Utilities Commission. Photo by Gabe Souza.

A single week late last month offered a startling snapshot of a once-staid electrical utility industry that is now swept up in turbulent change:

  • California’s largest utility, Pacific Gas & Electric, declared bankruptcy and faces billions in liability following the state’s 2018 wildfires.
  • All-time low temperatures in the Midwest strained the capacity of its power grids, forcing utility customers to lower thermostats and temporarily close several manufacturing plants.
  • In a “Worldwide Threat Assessment” report, Director of National Intelligence Dan Coates acknowledged that both Russia and China already possess the capacity to temporarily disrupt U.S. power networks.
  • CEO James Robo of NextEra Energy (the nation’s largest utility) predicted that cheaper electricity from solar power and growing battery storage capacity will be “massively disruptive” and will “create significant opportunities for renewable growth well into the next decade,” Clean Economy Weekly reported.

Here in Maine, Rep. Seth Berry (D-Bowdoinham) proposed a bill to create a consumer-owned utility that would – with fair compensation – take over the electric transmission and distribution assets of Central Maine Power and Emera Maine, investor-owned utilities that transmit 96 percent of the state’s total power.

Climate planning in an increasingly unpredictable world

Photo courtesy of the University of Maine

A recent report by the University of Maine Climate Change Institute offers a vivid reminder not to overlook the power of ecological connections. Clear links, like lobster populations responding to warming sea water, are easy to grasp.

But this “Coastal Maine Climate Futures” report portrays more subtle and complex dynamics, such as correlations between annual blueberry yields and atmospheric pressure changes at the Gulf of Maine’s surface.

The institute published a more in-depth report on “Maine’s Climate Future” in 2015, and an update is underway. This briefer piece takes a new approach, says Sean Birkel, co-author and the state’s climatologist. It applies a scenario planning model – like that used in business – to anticipate the range of possible climate impacts that could affect farming and fishing sectors.

Maine Trust Project: Amanda Huotari

When physical comedian Amanda Huotari was about 10 years old, in her hometown of South Paris, she saw an ordinary man transform himself.

You could argue that this man – the late master mime artist Tony Montanaro – was anything but ordinary. But, alone on the stage, dressed totally in white, without props, there was nothing to suggest what was about to happen.

Before Amanda’s young and amazed eyes, and without uttering a word or sound, he morphed from human-ness to rooster-ness.

Get to Know Amanda Huotari

Maine Trust Project: Joseph Reagan

Joe Reagan was just 22, a new graduate of Norwich University (a private military academy in Vermont) and had just completed 10 months of training as a second lieutenant in the Army when he arrived in Afghanistan for his first tour there with the 10th Mountain Division.

As a leader of a platoon of 28 men (women weren’t allowed in combat roles at the time) that scouted locations in advance of the rest of the division, he felt “extremely underqualified” for the role, he says. He was in a place that was unlike anything the Massachusetts native had experienced before.

Get to Know Joseph Reagan

Maine Trust Project: Myron M. Beasley

When Myron Beasley moved to Maine 11 years ago to take a position teaching African American studies and American cultural studies at Bates College in Lewiston, he was determined to reach beyond the borders of the Bates campus to make connections with people in his new community.

As someone who has lived in and traveled to many places across the globe – Myron grew up in Israel, was schooled in Europe and the United States, and has done ethnographic field work in Haiti, Brazil, Morocco, and the United States, including here in Maine – he knows how to create community wherever he is.

Get to Know Myron M. Beasley

Maine Trust Project: Marie Harnois of Jackman

Four years ago – during the “coldest December ever” – Marie Harnois found herself doing something she couldn’t have imagined before: installing hoses to collect sap from sugar maple trees.

If you didn’t count the time as a child when she’d helped a friend’s family with their 30 buckets, Marie had not run a maple sugaring business before, and yet, here she was trying to do just that – and freezing her fingers in the process.

Get to Know Marie Harnois
Maine Trust Project: Joe Black of Bath

Joe Black is a man living his dream. With a light in his eyes, a quick smile and a sense of humor that invites you in, he stocks shelves and engages customers at Renys department store on Front Street in Bath. He’s been doing his dream job for more than 20 years and says it’s the perfect job for him.

“I’m a firm believer that there are different kinds of dreams,” he said. “Some people want to be rock stars. Some people … want to be president. These are big, huge dreams – and big, huge dreams are awesome – but there’s nothing wrong with little dreams.”

Get to Know Joe Black
Maine Trust Project: Joe Black of Bath

Finding common ground and engaging in civil conversations about important issues facing our communities, our state, our country and our world can seem elusive, if not sadly impossible.

In our second installment of "The Maine Trust Project", we speak with Mike Douglas of Augusta, for whom trust is about wholeheartedly investing in relationships, believing he'll get out of them what he puts into them.

Get to Know Mike Douglas
Maine Trust Project: Joe Black of Bath

Every day, 83-year-old Mary Betterley and her border terrier Raymond, aka, The Mayor, walk down the hill from their condo in Damariscotta to Main Street. Having lived in town for 40 years, Mary is greeting or greeted all along her way by most of those who are out and about.

Trust, for Mary, is a default position – she trusts unless given a reason not to. This attitude extends even to taking a risk with her life, as she did at age 65, when she found herself placing her toes on the edge of Kawarau Gorge Suspension Bridge at A.J. Hackett’s Bungy Centre outside Queenstown, New Zealand.

Get to Know Mary Betterley


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