Power move: ‘It’s going to change the world, and some parts of the world aren’t going to like it,’ King says of energy independence bill
Strange bedfellows, indeed, but when it comes to power policy, politicians sometimes cross traditional party lines.
And sometimes they even take issue with traditional power lines.
Here’s a timely example: U.S. Sen. Angus King, I-Maine, who came under political fire from Republicans for his involvement with wind energy prior to his election, now counts Tea Party activists among his supporters when it comes to a piece of legislation that King is championing that would allow “individual power generation.”
The senator says the bill promotes individual sovereignty, and it doesn’t get a lot more Tea Party than that.
King contends that his Free Market Energy Act of 2015, introduced just last month, “would help foster the movement toward personal energy independence by protecting the right of consumers to connect their distributed resources to the larger electric grid without having to pay an exorbitant fee to the utilities.”
During a May 26 tour, King promoted the bill against the backdrop of the new Cumberland-based campus for the Friends School of Portland, a Quaker day school. The 15,000-square-foot building, when completed this fall, will attain “passive house” certification, the highest international standard for energy efficiency.
The new school will not rely on traditional fuels – such as oil, gas, coal or wood – but instead use distributed energy technologies, like solar electric panels from Portland’s ReVision Energy, to help produce as much energy as it uses, King noted.
The tour also pointed out more mundane but highly efficient construction methods.
Naomi Beal, chair of the building committee, explained that the school features air tightness and ventilation, with 6 inches of cellulose and exterior rigid insulation.
“It’s not super, super high tech. … Actually, the simpler system worked well for us,” she said.
Crews painstakingly taped every crease around doors.
“It’s very important that we seal every draft for passive house standards,” said Dave Merrill, Warren Construction project manager.
“We’ve got ERVs, energy recovery ventilators, throughout the building which take in exhaust air, extract the heat out of that, extract the cold air out and bring the heat in, so it’s actually transferring energy that’s already in the building and reusing that,” Merrill said.
“The ‘passive house’ standard is .6 ACH (air changes per hour), and we in our first try did it at .34, so we were almost half the value we needed to be and with only the skin of the building at that point in time,” he added.
King used the Friends School tour to underscore his argument that anyone should be allowed to create their own power plant.
“Right here in Maine, Friends School of Portland is deploying innovative technologies that will help it operate almost entirely independent of the electric grid. My legislation would ensure that people can do what FSP has done: take their energy future into their own hands,” he said in a statement.
King pivoted from the tour to a question-and-answer session with some of the nearly 100 pre-K through eighth grade students who attend the day school.
“We’re trying to make energy more democratic, with a small D, for people who make their own energy not only at their schools but at their houses. More and more people are doing that,” King told the students.
But King acknowledged resistance to his legislation. Oil, gas and coal producers will push back, he predicted.
“It’s going to change the world, and some parts of the world aren’t going to like it,” he said.
“Where there’s going to be a comprehensive energy bill this summer, I’m working really hard to see that this is part of it, but we have some very powerful opponents,” King said.
“What we’re proposing to do is leave the details to the state of how it would be implemented, but it would establish a right to self-generate, and for the fees that the utilities charge to be reasonable,” he explained.
“It’s stirred up quite a hornet’s nest,” King said.
Disruptions such as cyber attacks or ice storms would no longer threaten widespread outages under a decentralized power system, King said. The model flies in the face of American electrification.
“You have a big central place that makes electricity and sends it through the wires to the house, and you just take it. That’s the way energy has worked forever,” King said. “Now what we’re talking about, the big change is, you’re going to make your own energy at your own house, and maybe when you don’t need it, you’ll send it back, to everybody else. It’s like instead of one central plant, you’ll have a million plants.”