AUGUSTA, Maine — Last week Gov. John Baldacci was named the fifth “greenest” governor in the nation by a national group, but he was quick to say he does not deserve the credit.
Maine is embracing the “green economy” goals of President Obama as its own, he said.
“I am pleased to see people are recognizing what we are doing as a state,” Baldacci said. “It’s not just me, it is the Legislature, it is the people of Maine.”
Baldacci’s recognition by Greenopia, a group that creates guides to ecofriendly living, stems from Maine’s efforts to follow Obama’s initiatives in both the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act and his ongoing proposals for shifting the nation’s energy from overreliance on fossil fuels to renewable resources such as wind, water and solar.
Maine has responded in a number of ways, he said.
“The [wood] pellet initiative is important, the cellulosic ethanol and biorefineries are important,” he said. “The winds, onshore and offshore, are important — trying to generate not only the energy here in this country, but to generate the jobs here.”
Baldacci said the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act has provided the funds for significant investments by schools in both weatherizing buildings to conserve energy and acquiring furnaces that burn wood instead of oil.
“That will mean savings for those school districts in the future,” he said.
Baldacci said the nation is sending billions of dollars to foreign energy producers and it should keep that money in the nation to create jobs here.
The governor and the state’s congressional delegation met last month with Energy Secretary Steven Chu to urge the federal government to invest in the University of Maine as a research center for offshore wind power.
“That has tremendous potential to help not only all of New England, but the whole northeastern part of the country,” said U.S. Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine. “There are significant resources available from the recovery act to develop wind power.”
Baldacci agreed and said the state already has seen companies develop several wind turbine facilities that are generating electricity, with others under construction.
“Others are talking about it — we are doing it,” he said.
U.S. Sen. Olympia Snowe, R-Maine, said the paper industry in Maine is already a leader in using renewable energy sources to power their facilities. She said both hydropower and biomass boilers are generating electricity to operate several mills.
“I see [the need for] the incentives for developing a range of technologies,” she said. “We have not yet really, I think, made the kind of investments to inspire innovation in this country.”
Snowe said the government’s role is to help with the development of new technologies and let the private sector market them. She said Congress should fund research and provide tax credits as part of that effort.
“We have to reduce our overall dependence on foreign oil,” she said. “We need to invest more in the technologies that provide renewable energy and help create jobs here.”
First District Rep. Chellie Pingree, a Democrat, said the president’s call for green jobs is sometimes misunderstood, with some confusing renewable-energy jobs with rangers who help out in a national park.
“There is a great potential in a state like Maine for the development of renewable-energy jobs,” she said. “We all know we are the most oil-dependent state in the nation.”
Pingree said wood for heating homes, public buildings and businesses is plentiful, and new technologies including wood pellet furnaces have improved the efficiency of heating with wood. In addition, she said, technologies once considered exotic, such as solar, have improved and can be used in Maine.
“I can remember when I graduated from the College of the Atlantic back in the ’70s, people were putting up solar panels then,” she said. “A lot of people in Maine were thinking then about how to reduce dependence on foreign oil.”
Second District Rep. Mike Michaud, a Democrat, said the energy bill approved by the House last month included provisions he wrote that will boost biomass as a source for both homeowners and large-scale heating, and for the generation of electricity.
“This bill will promote the research and development of clean energy that will help reinvigorate our economy with new technologies, new businesses and new jobs,” he said.
Michaud said the state could be a leader in biomass use for energy as it is in the development of wind power.
“The United States cannot afford to fall behind other countries,” he said.
While both Pingree and Michaud voted for the American Clean Energy and Security Act of 2009, the Senate has yet to consider its version of the legislation. Both Collins and Snowe say the bill the Senate passes likely will be different from the House measure. Any differences then will have to be negotiated in a conference committee.
In addition to Baldacci, Greenopia’s top five “greenest governors” are Colorado Gov. Bill Ritter; California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger; Oregon Gov. Ted Kulongoski; and Washington Gov. Christine Gregoire.
Vermont Gov. James Douglas was ranked eighth.
Last on the list were Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, 48th; Indiana Gov. Mitchell Daniels, 49th; and Louisiana Gov. Piyush Jindal, 50th.
Greenopia’s Web site is www.greenopia.com/USA.