NORTH HAVEN, Maine — Matthew Simmons, the founder of an international energy investment bank, who once advised President George W. Bush on energy issues and also founded the Ocean Energy Institute in Rockland, drowned Sunday at his home on the island. He was 67.
Gov. John Baldacci praised Simmons on Monday as “an innovative thinker who pushed ideas that have the potential to yield a more environmentally and economically sustainable future for Maine and the world.”
The founder and chairman of Simmons & Co. International, one of the largest energy investment banking firms in the world, was a seasonal resident of Maine, with homes in North Haven and Rockport.
His body was found Sunday night in a hot tub at his home on the island. An autopsy by the state medical examiner’s office concluded Monday that he died from accidental drowning with heart disease as a contributing factor.
The Rockland-based Ocean Energy Institute that he founded in 2007 is “a think-tank and venture capital fund addressing the challenges of U.S. offshore renewable energy,” according to its website.
The institute is a part of a consortium led by the University of Maine, which aims to design and test floating deep-water wind turbine platforms.
He also wrote the 2005 book, “Twilight in the Desert: The Coming Saudi Oil Shock and the World Economy,” raising concerns about Saudi Arabia’s oil reserves and laying out his theory that the world was approaching peak oil production.
“His leadership and commitment to a better world will be missed, and we need to continue Matt’s work and vision as a way to honor him,” Baldacci said in a press release issued Monday. “Matt was also a kind and generous man. At this difficult time, we send our deepest sympathies to his family.”
Members of Maine’s congressional delegation also offered their condolences in separate releases Monday.
U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree said Simmons, “was dedicated to making Maine a leader in offshore wind energy and made significant contributions to life in the midcoast. We were fortunate that he was willing to bring his vast experience and success to Maine. His energy, intelligence and commitment will be sorely missed.”
U.S. Sen. Susan Collins said, “I am shocked and saddened by the loss of Matt Simmons, who was so devoted to Maine. I worked closely with Matt on the development of UMaine’s deepwater offshore wind energy initiative, and most recently saw him on June 14 during Energy Secretary Chu’s visit to UMaine. This is truly a tragic loss.”
Simmons continued to serve as chairman emeritus of Simmons and Co. until last month, when he retired to give his full energy to the Ocean Energy Institute.
“We are deeply saddened by the unexpected loss of a true visionary and friend. As a pivotal figure in the lives of many of our employees, and countless others across the energy industry, Matt will be sorely missed,” Simmons & Co. CEO Mike Frazier said in a statement.
Simmons gave lectures about energy around the world. In a presentation given May 6 this year at the 2010 Offshore Technology Conference in Houston, Simmons expressed his hope for the midcoast as an ocean energy leader.
“The Gulf of Maine will soon become a Silicon Valley and begin proving ocean energy can be captured, processed and turned into a replacement for modern energy and water,” he wrote in his slide show.
Simmons was critical of BP PLC’s handling of the gulf oil spill and predicted the company would file for bankruptcy. In one interview, he said the cleanup costs could top $1 trillion.
As an international energy expert, Simmons correctly predicted in 2007 that oil would surpass $100 a barrel. The next year, it peaked at $147 a barrel.
Simmons and his family also bought and restored the Strand Theatre in Rockland in February 2004. The movie theater, built in 1923, had fallen into disrepair and was no longer showing movies when Simmons purchased it and began rehabilitation work. By July 2005 the Strand reopened.
“It is easy to fall in love with Maine and fun to be able to try and give back,” Simmons told the Bangor Daily News in 2005. “Ellen and I are also very active in the National Trust for Historic Preservation, and genuine, high-quality restoration means a great deal to us.”
According to a statement from the Ocean Energy Institute, Simmons is survived by his wife, Ellen, and their five daughters. Funeral arrangements are pending. In lieu of flowers, the family asks that donations be made to the Ocean Energy Institute, www.oceanenergy.org.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.