Friday, December 14, 2007

Column missed the facts on energy reform

Portland Press Herald

Maine's future will be found in conservation and new technologies, not older ones.

Rep. Larry Bliss, Rep. Jon Hinck and Rep. Seth Berry
December 14, 2007


Rep. Larry Bliss, D-South Portland, is the House Chair of the Utilities and Energy Committee. Rep. Jon Hinck, D-Portland, and Rep. Seth Berry, D-Bowdoinham, serve on the committee.

This year the Maine Legislature accomplished a rare feat. With near-unanimous support and the collaboration of a diverse mix of legislators, environmental advocates, energy producers and consumers, we passed the state's guidelines for the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative.

RGGI -- "Reggie" -- is a groundbreaking initiative developed with other northeastern states. It will result in a cleaner, more efficient energy system.

Democrats led the way in the RGGI negotiations, and have proposed and supported many of the state's other key energy initiatives that we will list below. Republicans have collaborated with us on many successes.

As members of the Utilities and Energy Committee, we were intrigued given that hard work and progress to read Republican Rep. Bob Walker's column ridiculing others for perceived shortcomings in the state's energy policy.

Having not previously heard much from him on energy issues, we take this as an opportunity to welcome him to the ongoing efforts. What we cannot agree with is Walker's aggressive pitch for nuclear power and more oil refineries while ignoring negative impacts and giving short shrift to proven alternatives.

Experience tells us that it makes little sense to push generation at any cost while failing to achieve maximum efficiency.

Energy supplies freed up by efficiency have proven to be cheaper than all forms of new generation. Since 2002, when the Legislature established Efficiency Maine, we have made strides on smarter use of energy.

Maine is becoming recognized as a leader in both renewable energy development and conservation. Since 2005, New England's largest wind power facility has been generating clean renewable power at Mars Hill, with other projects in the permit and planning process.

The state has also recently expanded use of a biodiesel blend that is now heating 20 state office buildings, including the State House, and improved fuel economy of the state fleet. In 2004, the state launched the Web site, a comprehensive resource for consumers seeking information on energy matters.

In just the past few years we have also developed a voluntary energy building code, which has been implemented by municipalities around the state; required all new state construction to exceed energy efficiency standards; designated access to tidal water and encouraged investments in tidal power research; provided rebates for individuals and businesses investing in solar power; completed energy audits of large state buildings and more.

In the months ahead we will assess whether we can make a better arrangement for Maine electricity consumers than the deal we currently have with the ISO New England power grid.

Reducing unnecessary vehicle idling and minimizing sprawl are other important energy-related options that will get more consideration in 2008.

In 2006, Efficiency Maine saved 74,759 megawatt hours, worth an estimated $53.9 million in lifetime economic benefits representing a 162 percent increase in savings from the prior year. That's energy progress -- drilling for more oil is not.

Some observers think that the best choices remain rooted in the last century. While oil, coal and nuclear power will remain part of our energy mix, Maine can do better, and we're working on new, more efficientways of meeting the challenge.

The best plans will go beyond tapping our last reserves of oil -- which would only make us more dependent on foreign oil and less secure as a nation.

Our families, our economy and our environment deserve better solutions. We hope that all energy-minded legislators will pull up a seat at the table and work with us toward the best energy future for Maine.

-- Special to the Press Herald

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