High energy costs are a drag on Maine’s economy, robbing consumers of their power in the marketplace and stifling industrial growth.

And our over-reliance on one energy source – oil – is the biggest culprit because it puts Maine families at the whim of events in the most troubled areas of the world.

The answer is to give energy users low-cost options to keep some energy dollars from leaving the state and making Maine industry more competitive with businesses in other parts of the country and abroad.

Achieving diversity is not easy, but Gov. Paul LePage’s office of energy is on the right track by encouraging the expansion of natural gas. Gas is plentiful and relatively cheap. Maine has pipelines that carry gas from Canada to southern New England that could be tapped to get the fuel to more consumers here.

About 70 percent of Maine homes heat with oil, and many consumers would make the switch to gas if  they could. LePage pledges to meet with the state’s gas companies to find out what it would take to extend the gas lines between existing pipeline and big users that would create the opportunity to convert to gas for others along the route. He is also considering converting state buildings to gas, even if, as in the case of the Maine State Prison, the fuel would have to be delivered in liquid form by truck.

The state could do more, like helping homeowners convert to gas with low-interest loans that could be repaid with heating cost savings.

But becoming entirely dependent on gas as an energy source should not be the answer. The state already gets more than 40 percent of its electricity from natural gas-fired generators.

Maine still should pursue homegrown renewables for heating, like wood pellets and solar, as well as electricity generated from wind, both onshore and offshore. Maine should make the best use of available federal subsidies that would lower the cost of developing and converting to new power sources, creating opportunities for savings on an ongoing basis.

Over-reliance on oil puts Maine people and businesses at a disadvantage. Whatever Maine’s government can do to diversify the energy profile could tip the balance back in the right direction.