Saturday, March 8, 2014
Yet we continue to get most of our energy from unsustainable underground sources outside of Maine. Shame on us if we saddle our children and grandchildren with our addiction to oil, a dependency that has shackled our economy and put many of us in danger of freezing to death.
The best gifts we can give our descendants are renewable energy sources right here in Maine. This is a moral imperative. And that's why the Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency Initiative is so important. Best of all -- you get to decide!
Maine Citizens for Clean Energy -- a coalition that includes environmental groups, labor unions and businesses -- has collected sufficient signatures to qualify their initiative for the November ballot. The initiative would require that at least 20 percent of Maine's electricity come from renewable energy sources, including wind, water, and wood by 2020.
While I am certain you know we Mainers lead the nation in our dependence on oil, you may not know that we also lag other states and Canada in our efforts to become more energy-efficient. Shame on us!
Today, just 5 percent of our electrical energy comes from renewable resources. You'd think we lived in a windless desert devoid of trees and tide. At least, we act that way. And it costs us a lot of money -- and impoverishes many Mainers.
So let's put the money issue to bed, quickly. A reputable study says the renewable energy initiative might increase residential electric bills by up to 84 cents a month initially, before giving us $8.70 in monthly savings by 2030. Frankly, I don't care. I've put my faith in low-cost oil and gasoline for most of my life -- and look where's that's gotten us. Time to try a different strategy!
I agree with Beth Nagusky, Maine director of Environment Northeast, that, "The status quo, business-as-usual approach is the most costly and worst course of action."
Of particular note were the comments at a recent news conference by one of Maine's leading businesses, Reed & Reed. Speaking for her company, Abbie Parker said, "If Maine wants to see significant improvement on energy costs while keeping jobs and energy dollars local, it's time for the state to diversify the way it creates electricity."
Thirty-five states have renewable-energy requirements (many higher than ours), so we are not plowing new ground here. Our current goal of generating 10 percent of our electricity from renewable sources must be reached by 2017. The initiative nudges that up to 20 percent by 2020, not exactly a radical notion. Isn't it a shame we can't get to 100 percent? With all the wind, water, sun, and wood in this state?
The second part of this initiative has drawn little attention so far, but is equally compelling. It's focused on improving energy efficiency, through programs such as Efficiency Maine, which helped 1,000 businesses plus individual homeowners in 2011 reduce their energy costs. Four hundred businesses joined in a 2011 letter supporting increased use of Efficiency Maine.
It would require utilities to invest in energy efficiency whenever it would lower costs for consumers. This would be moved out of the political arena, where too many of these decisions are made (or not made) these days, and determined by the Public Utilities Commission -- the same way all other states run their energy efficiency projects.
I can't say it any better than Nagusky, who noted, "We have tremendous potential to grow the production and use of our own indigenous renewable energy resources ... and we can do so in a way that makes sense for the ratepayers, for our economy, for public health and that clean air and clean water."
Of course, no good idea goes unchallenged. Gov. Paul LePage opposes the initiative. He favors letting the "free market" determine which generation and energy sources are the most cost competitive.
Well, that's what we've been doing governor. How's that working for you? Not so well for us, I'd say.
Ironically, the governor utilized the Efficiency Maine program when he was the manager of Mardens, receiving $168,000 to improve the company's energy efficiency over a four-year period.
The governor has promised a vigorous campaign against this initiative. He's got his work cut out for him. An October 2011 statewide poll found 76 percent in favor of the initiative, 17 percent opposed, and 7 percent undecided.
This is important. You know it is. You support it today. Don't let anyone talk you out of it tomorrow. It's time to go with the flow.
George Smith is a writer and TV talk show host. He can be reached at 34 Blake Hill Road, Mount Vernon 04352, or firstname.lastname@example.org. Read more of Smith's writings at www.georgesmithmaine.com.