CONTRIBUTORS

Road to Maine prosperity passes through energy

Posted Nov. 04, 2011, at 3:56 p.m.

High unemployment and high energy costs are two of Maine’s biggest economic challenges. What if we could tackle both of them at once? Maine Citizens for Clean Energy, a new coalition of businesses and economic development, national security, public health, environmental and worker advocates is doing just that.

Last week, this coalition launched a citizens’ initiative campaign to secure Maine’s energy independence. The initiative will ensure that Maine gets 20 percent of its power from new renewable sources such as solar, hydropower and wind by 2020. It also will require electric utilities to invest in energy efficiency whenever doing so would lower costs for consumers.

Meeting our energy needs through renewable energy and energy efficiency in this way will accomplish many economic goals at once.

First and foremost, the initiative will increase our energy independence. Maine currently ships over $5 billion out of state every year buying oil and gas from beyond our borders, including to run many of the power plants on which we rely. The prices of these commodities can swing wildly, with devastating consequences for our residents and businesses.

Renewable energy harvests our own resources and puts our own people to work.

Whether it’s wind off our shores, sustainable biomass in our pulp and paper mills or solar energy striking the rooftop of a home or business, we’re keeping our energy dollars in the state, where they will create construction, operating and maintenance jobs that cannot be outsourced.

Renewable energy costs are predictable because the fuel is inexpensive or free, so prices do not swing like fossil fuel prices. Moving to a renewable future stabilizes costs today, lowers them tomorrow and puts Maine people to work in the meantime.

Energy efficiency is one of the most abundant energy resources in Maine. Every building and factory in the state has the capacity to meet 30 percent or more of its energy needs through energy efficiency, at one-third the cost of buying it from a utility or an oil dealer. We “harvest” energy efficiency by using efficient lighting and appliances, upgrading heating, ventilation and air conditioning systems and installing high-efficiency motors and boilers in factories.

All of this “prospecting” for energy efficiency creates good-paying building trades jobs that cannot be exported and it lowers costs for all of us today.

Moving to a clean energy future doesn’t just create jobs directly. Making Maine a hub for clean energy innovation will also create jobs in related research, development and manufacturing.

The University of Maine already is doing world-class research at the intersection of wind generation and advanced composites materials. Our strong transportation systems (including multiple deep-water ports), a skilled manufacturing work force and an abundant wind resource create the ideal conditions for development of a wind turbine component manufacturing industry.

At Old Town Fuel and Fiber, the once-shuttered Red Shield mill has reopened as both a wood pulp producer and an innovative biofuels producer, collaborating closely with the University of Maine to develop new technologies.

Joining a coalition to produce more good news like this was an obvious choice for Opportunity Maine. As an economic development think tank, we have been working at the intersection of education, work force development and energy industry job creation in recent years. We have seen directly how the clean energy economy continues to grow, even as the rest of the economy remains mired in recession.

As members of a grassroots organization working throughout Maine, we also know that Mainers understand the potential that clean energy has to restore prosperity to their communities.

In this economy, many of us feel like we don’t have much control over what happens to us. This initiative gives Maine people the power to turn our shared vision of a clean energy future into a reality.

You can help us get there by signing a petition to put the initiative on the ballot. Look for our volunteers circulating them in your town. You can also help us by volunteering at www.cleanenergymaine.org. We are recruiting volunteers in every county, and we need to gather tens of thousands of signatures by Jan. 30 to put the initiative on the 2012 ballot.

You can also call Opportunity Maine, which is one of the organizations helping gather signatures, at 699-5880.

There is a road ahead that leads to energy independence and renewed prosperity, and it’s time for all of us to start walking down it together.

Rob Brown and Cliff Ginn are co-directors of Opportunity Maine.

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