AUGUSTA, Maine — Gov. John Baldacci has a little over a year and a half left in his tenure and insists he won’t run for office again. Nevertheless, he appears to be in campaign mode — and the issue driving him is energy.
With his legacy at stake, the two-term Democrat barely hesitated when asked how he wants to be remembered after he leaves the Blaine House.
“I’d like to be the independent energy governor,” Baldacci said the morning after Tuesday’s State of the State address, which focused heavily on Maine’s opportunities to develop wind, tidal, solar and other forms of renewable energy and to move it efficiently to consumers.
Baldacci’s view of the future involves turning off the tap of foreign oil and tapping Maine’s renewable energy potential.
“I want to be independent of foreign energy sources. That’s the big deal,” he said. “I’ve been through enough contrived crises and shortages, and I’ve seen it hurt people and businesses and families, and we’ve got to be independent of that.”
Governors often wind up their terms associated with a singular policy, event or change — wanted or unwanted. For former independent Gov. Angus King, it was a push to give a laptop computer to every student in Maine. The effort persists to this day.
For Republican Gov. John McKernan, it was heady economic times followed by a huge and swift economic downturn, which set the stage for a state government shutdown. And for Democratic Gov. Joseph Brennan before him, it was public school reform.
Energy, in Baldacci’s view, is bigger than a single issue because it also represents a potential wealth of new jobs and long-term improvement of the economy, bankrolled largely through private investments.
And unlike other stand-alone issues, aggressive development of renewable energy resources represents, in the governor’s view, a turning point in Maine’s history.
“I’ve had an opportunity to go over this state in a helicopter and to see what’s taken place in the state and it’s a beautiful landscape, it’s a wonderful canvas that’s out there, and we have these wonderful natural resources,” Baldacci said.
“You have the woods, you have the waters, you have the winds,” he said. “You have the opportunity here with solar. I mean, you have the whole thing right here, and you’re in a transportation network where you need to be able to help to get the power from point A to point B. You’re here, you have an opportunity to be part of that and to have a huge benefit to your state.”
Wind energy is being developed in Maine, with two commercial-grade wind farms already producing power.
One farm is due for completion next year, another is approved for construction, and several others are planned.
Central Maine Power Co. wants to upgrade its power grid to ensure reliability — and to become a conduit for wind power in western Maine. CMP also is working with Public Service Co. to connect rural Aroostook County to New England’s electrical grid. The County now is linked to Canada’s grid.
For his part, Baldacci created a wind power task force that called for streamlining the review process for wind power projects while protecting important scenic areas from the visual impacts. His ocean energy task force is working on recommendations for wind, tidal and wave energy from the Gulf of Maine. Baldacci sees some of Maine’s natural features as potential hosts for windmills.
“It’s not just the highway corridors and those other corridors, but we have 1,100 uninhabited islands that the state owns up and down the Maine coast,” the governor said. “We have submerged lands, which extend three to four miles, which we own and don’t require Army Corps [of Engineers] approval that we have as opportunities to bring to bear energy issues.”
In his speech Tuesday, Baldacci said he fears consumers might forget how quickly energy prices can rise, as they did last summer. Preparations were quickly made for a wintertime crisis that hasn’t happened.
Baldacci said he has seen enough destabilizing energy crunches and has tried to lay the groundwork for the state’s self-sufficiency.
“And that’s what I want to be known as, the guy who, the governor who laid the foundation for us becoming more independent of foreign sources of energy, and used ours to the full advantage,” he said in Wednesday’s interview.