The best way to achieve Maine’s energy goals of creating less pollution and reducing the state’s dependence on foreign oil is to use less energy.

While there is a place for renewable power generators that run on wind, tides or the sun’s rays, and room to replace imported oil with cleaner-burning gas or locally grown wood pellets, no investment will bring as quick a return as conservation.

The Efficiency Maine Trust has bold goals. In a three-year plan presented to the Legislature this week, it proposes dramatically reducing the state’s need for power. The plan puts Maine on track to reduce demand for electricity and natural gas by one-third in the next decade and reliance on home heating oil by 20 percent during the same time.

This would be achieved by a commitment to weatherize every home and business in the state over the next 20 years, providing steady work for people in the building trades.

The program would be financed by federal stimulus funds at first, and then by an already existing surtax on electric bills that is earmarked for conservation. Other funding methods including a possible tax on home heating oil, are under discussion.

If the idea is implemented, it would give Maine the most ambitious energy saving program in the nation.

This could not come forward at a better time. Oil prices are rising as the world starts to recover from the recession. Maine is already more dependent on heating oil than any other state and so is the most vulnerable to quick spikes in prices. Maine nearly faced a crisis in the fall of 2007, with the prospect of tens of thousands of residents without the ability to heat their homes. Those prices were not much higher than what we see today.

Low-income weatherization, aid to middle-class homeowners and incentives for residents and businesses to exchange inefficient lighting and appliances are investments that pay great dividends in the form of avoided energy costs. No new source of energy comes close to providing this kind of return for so little an investment.

Reducing the appetite for energy keeps saving money for Maine consumers, no matter what happens to world oil markets. Conservation is a resource that Maine should exploit to the fullest extent possible.