In his State of the State address Tuesday, Gov. John Baldacci unveiled an ambitious energy agenda for Maine. Not coincidentally, the energy portion of the speech came after his assessment of the flagging economy and before his plans for improving education. The way we navigate the fast-changing energy map has enormous implications for the economy. With innovation, Maine can steer away from high fossil fuel costs while also climbing aboard the rising green industry sector. Education tailored to the new green sector is key.
His promise and charge was: “We will become more energy-efficient. We will invest in clean, renewable sources of power.”
A key piece of the energy portion of the governor’s speech was his call for a comprehensive effort to improve the insulation of Maine’s residential buildings. Though last summer’s spike in oil prices spurred many people to find a better heating source, the best return on investment — by far — comes on improvements to a building’s capacity to hold heat.
“I’m talking about a massive infusion of new resources to fix people’s homes and improve their lives,” he said, aiming to increase current weatherization efforts by 20 times. “The dividends for Maine are huge. We’ll send fewer energy dollars out of state, we’ll reduce greenhouse gas emissions and we’ll create thousands of jobs for Maine workers.”
In addition, he plans to create a Maine Weatherization Corps of young people, a joint offering of the Department of Labor, Jobs for Maine Graduates, CAP agencies and Maine Housing. The governor plans to train 100 young people for the new force; a worthy goal, but it seems that number could be increased tenfold.
Gov. Baldacci proposes to use state loan guarantees to access up to $100 million in private money so that “in one simple process, you’ll be able to save money on your mortgage by refinancing, improve your home’s value and cut utility bills.”
In another critical area, the governor pledged his support for “a better electric grid that is more reliable and capable of connecting Maine and all of the Northeast to new sources of electricity.” Several major proposals for upgrading the grid are in various stages of review, but a cloud hanging over each is the pending question of whether Maine should remain part of the ISO New England power grid, realign itself with New Brunswick or become a free agent. Part of that grid work, the governor said, could be accomplished along existing transportation corridors, an innovative approach to an old sticking point that could speed development of alternative energy generation. Maine must benefit from these projects, not just become a pass-through for energy sources traveling south.
Last, the governor pledged to put the state squarely behind efforts to develop as much wind power in Maine — and offshore — as possible. His $7.5 million plan for a Maine Marine Wind Energy Fund would “support the development of the premier offshore testing site for wind energy in the country.”
Given the challenges of the economy, Gov. Baldacci’s call to action is commendable. Now, it is up to lawmakers and industry to show that it is achievable.