BANGOR – When it comes to energy policy, Maine state government has a history of killing off the trustworthy breadwinner and then racing off with the most expensive suitor it can find.

In the past 30 years, this approach has driven Maine electric rates more than 50 percent above the national average. We need to cultivate a more reliable relationship in energy.

State energy policy discourages private capital investment, lowers our tax base and kills good jobs. The state let its owners mothball the low-cost Maine Yankee nuclear plant prematurely, promoted uneconomic wood-burning power plants (ratepayers are still paying for that mistake), tore out hydro dams that were essentially free and then passed laws requiring Central Maine Power and Bangor Hydro to get out of regulated power generation and sell off the remainder of their dams to out-of- state companies.

Now the state is dragging its feet on potential low-cost, long-term contracts for affordable Hydro Quebec power because it would undercut extremely expensive and heavily subsidized wind and tidal interests.

The Maine Legislature’s experiment with running the electricity business is driving Maine into poverty. Maine state government’s energy policy is as fickle as catspaw breezes on Casco Bay.

Once upon a time, the state and its regulators were tasked with keeping electric rates as low as possible. Not so anymore. If Dirigo health is a failure, then Maine’s energy policy is Dirigo health on steroids. It’s time for a change.

I’ve been involved with the operating of windmills from Trenton, Maine, to Nelson Lagoon, Alaska, and wind is great. However, wind electricity is not going to build Aegis destroyers, manufacture pulp and paper, or create a controlled climate for our world-class biological research labs.

As long as Washington pumps out subsidies, wind may well seem worth pursuing. When it comes to wind, Maine must connect the dots. In Norway, offshore wind is backed up by onshore hydro. In Denmark, onshore wind is backed by continental nuclear power. In the Great Plains, wind is backed by natural gas. In Maine, we discourage all these readily available reinforcements for wind power, electing instead to bolster it with hot air.

Maine needs an inclusive energy policy, one that welcomes private investors who would like to bring us wind, waves, tides, solar, hydro, biomass, Canadian hydro, smart grids, conservation, wood stoves and furnaces, next-generation nuclear, off-shore exploration for gas and oil, LNG, cogeneration and heat pumps.

We should encourage consumer-owned electric generation cooperatives with access to federal REA money, and we should lift the ban on our utilities’ production of electricity. We should consider aggressively pursuing an I-95 utility corridor if someone other than Maine ratepayers will pay for it.

Instead of the state scheming how best to fill its coffers by collecting fees from Mainers wishing to tap into a new utility corridor, wouldn’t it be a novel approach to pass on the fees and pass along lower electric costs to Maine homeowners, shopkeepers and industries?

Wouldn’t it be novel if Maine’s energy policy gave the regulated free market a try for a change?

To the naysayers who argue that more jobs and a lower cost of living will destroy Maine, I would respond that our government still guides our destiny.

Constructive, rigorous regulations and laws set priorities and weigh broad quality of life issues against pure economic issues. Any of the many energy sources, from nuclear power to wood stoves, may or may not make the cut on their own merits.

But unless we open our minds to the fantastic array of energy options we have here in Maine, we’ll never know.

 

– Special to the Press Herald