Sunday, May 04, 2008

Electricity is key to strengthening Maine's economy

Kennebec Journal
April 6, 2008

Calvin Ames

Business leaders and elected officials gathered last week in Augusta for the Governor's Energy Efficiency Summit to explore how businesses can benefit from becoming more efficient in their energy consumption.
Whether the decision is made to be more efficient for environmental or economic reasons, or a combination of both, it is one way that companies can reduce operating costs and improve their chances of success here in Maine.

But energy efficiency alone is not enough to breed development and business success in Maine. In our state, industry is the leading sector consumer of energy -- the only state in New England to have that distinction, according to the Energy Information Administration. Industry and manufacturing are critical segments of our state economy and while efficiency is important, many companies still need a great deal of electricity to power the machinery, keep the lights on and produce top-quality goods that are shipped around the globe.

While high compared to some other parts of the nation, Maine's electric rates are the lowest compared to our New England neighbors. Maine also generates a larger share of its electricity from non-hydroelectric renewable sources than any other state.

As fossil fuel prices rise and cause the price of electricity to follow, businesses will look for solutions to complement their energy-saving practices, including favorable prices and the availability of electricity from "green" sources that allow them to maintain and increase production.

In Madison, we are fortunate to have lower than average electric rates for businesses and residents due to Madison Electric Works (MEW). MEW operates as a nonprofit supplier and as such, we can negotiate and offer lower and custom rates to businesses operating or locating in our community. This is one of the key reasons why the successful and expanding Backyard Farms tomato greenhouse decided to call Madison home.

Across Maine, there are nine electric cooperatives (including MEW) that operate as non-profit entities and can work with existing and new businesses to find solutions to their electricity needs in a highly volatile energy market. Often, rates offered by cooperatives can match or beat the lower standard delivery rates outside the New England region.

When businesses spend less on their electricity, whether through efficiency measures or by negotiating a rate program with a local electric cooperative or nonprofit provider, more funds are available for research and development, new equipment, health care for employees and other capital investments that directly impact and improve conditions for businesses and people in our communities.

Electricity has always been a key driver in economic development. From its early harnessing in the 1800s, to the Rural Electrification Act passed in 1935 to bring power to the farm communities across the U.S., to current international efforts to bring stable electricity to some of the poorest areas throughout the developing world, electricity has been a critical element in improving the lives of those who have affordable, reliable access to it.

In Maine, as we work to attract and retain business that will provide jobs and prosperity for our communities, affordable electricity is a lynchpin that can enable or hamper business success. With the combination of competitive rates from nonprofit providers, renewable energy sourcing and support from the state through numerous efficiency programs, businesses have good reason to look to Maine for innovative energy solutions that can benefit their bottom line and strengthen the state's economy.

Calvin Ames is Superintendent at Madison Electric Works.

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