Friday, October 23, 2009

Angus King urges business owners to conserve, think alternative energy

By Rebekah Metzler, Staff Writer
Published: Oct 23, 2009 12:00 am

LEWISTON — Former Maine Gov. Angus King told local businesspeople to start conserving and to think about investments in renewable energy sources in his keynote address at a conference held at Bates College on Thursday.

The Androscoggin County Chamber of Commerce hosted the event, titled "Surviving the Energy Crisis: How to Save Money," which was sponsored by the Unitil Corp., Efficiency Maine and the Natural Resources Council of Maine.

King is a principal investor in Independence Wind, a company seeking to develop large-scale wind power projects in Maine. The group recently won state regulatory approval for a project in Roxbury.

"For every dollar that gasoline and home heating oil go up, that represents $1.2 billion a year out of the Maine economy," he told the audience of about 30 people. "It affects you as businesspeople because that's money people don't have to spend to buy CDs or go to the movies or go out to dinner or buy clothes. It's money that just disappears."

The combined state earnings from sales and income tax is about $1.8 billion a year, King said.

"So if gas goes up $1.25, it's as if the major taxes in Maine doubled and we get nothing for it," he said.

King pointed to Maine's exceptional reliance on fossil fuels — up to 88 percent of all the energy consumed in state — and its inability to control the price or supply of things such as gas and home heating oil as a dire problem.

"In my view, we're really in borrowed time on this and we really need to be thinking about what the alternatives are and how to hedge our bets," he said.

The first step to solving the problem, King advised, is conservation.

"It's the least expensive, the quickest, the least permitting involved, the least hassle and there are all kinds of things that can be done," he said.

But, he added, conservation alone would not be enough to counteract the growing global demand for fossil fuels.

"While we're caulking windows, in China they are building whole new cities," King said.

So, King said, looking to invest in alternative energy sources, like wind power, makes sense both for Mainers' pocketbooks and the environment.

"We have this energy going by us every day that's free," he said of wind power. "It's just the opposite of gas, which is cheap to build but more expensive to operate because you have to pay for the gas."

Successful off-shore wind development could produce enough energy to completely wean Maine off oil, King said.

The University of Maine has been awarded federal money to development technology that could withstand the rough off-shore elements, such as corrosive saltwater, and create a way to tap into the high-powered winds in the Gulf of Maine — "the Saudi Arabia of wind," according to King.

Americans tend to look for one solution to a problem, but King said that wouldn't work in this case.

"There is no one answer, but there are lots of little ones," he said. "We have to do for ourselves, we have to look at what it is we have."

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