GORHAM — House Speaker Tip O’Neill popularized the saying “all politics is local,” and another famed politician, Boston Mayor Kevin White, followed up with “all politics is personal.” Both are true for energy choices. But energy choices also encompass a broad worldview, and, knowingly or not, our choices have geopolitical implications.

All of us make decisions about what we do for energy usage. Sometimes these choices are deliberate, and sometimes they are made by default when we do not or cannot make an active choice.

Maine does not produce fossil fuels, so energy choices that reflect local energy production say something about independence from Middle Eastern and other foreign oil.

But Maine does produce Yankee ingenuity and Yankee thrift. Each of us can take a litany of actions, small and large, ranging from caulking windows to upgrading entire heating systems.

The Department of Environmental Science at the University of Southern Maine has an “energy house” to represent changes that typical Mainers can make to their own homes. It isn’t a fancy new house or a large house, it is just a mid-19th century typical house that needs insulation and is ripe for a host of improvements that can add up to a significant savings.

My family’s personal choices, fueled somewhat slowly by economic opportunity, include leasing an electric vehicle, putting solar thermal and photovoltaic panels on our roof, primary heating with a wood stove and using a greenhouse to help warm the chicken coop.

The electric vehicle – in our case, a Nissan Leaf, with a motor, not an engine (there is no internal combustion) – is innovative technology. I recognize that the materials and processes in its production do have an environmental impact and are not necessarily sustainable at this stage of development. Still, without the commitment to use leading technology, it would be hard to envision the more sustainable results that might follow.

And although the technology is innovative, electric vehicles are not new. Robert Davidson built an electric car in 1873, 12 years before the first gasoline car. Electric vehicles were available for consumer purchase in 1891, five years before you could buy a gasoline-powered automobile. Bangor and other cities had electric trolleys by the early 1900s.

New technology is solving the battery problems afflicting earlier electric cars. We have put more than 13,000 miles on our Leaf – the first one sold in the Portland area and one of the first in Maine – and have never been stranded without power (we do carry a 110-volt extension cord for emergencies, which we avoid because it would take all day to recharge). Our home charging station (220 volts) takes care of our daily charging need in a few hours.

Our roof has 12 solar panels that deliver about half the electricity our house uses, so when the car is charging, half its power is, in effect, coming from the sun. These panels make at least some power even on cloudy days and in snowstorms. It is Maine-made power.

The two solar thermal panels on our roof heat up antifreeze (a glycol solution) that circulates in pipes from the roof down through our hot water tank, bringing up the temperature and reducing the amount of oil used in firing up the boiler. In summer the boiler can go for weeks without coming on. Like the solar electrical panels, the collectors on our roof give us Maine-produced energy.

The wood stove we use is new, meeting Environmental Protection Agency emission standards, and we run a hot burn to reduce emissions. The wood is cut locally, by people who do it long-term, so they want to be sustainable in their forest management. Again, a Maine source of energy.

My chicken coop is the back end of a tiny greenhouse, rebuilt from a prior structure on my property and outfitted with recycled windows. The coop warms up from the sun, and my hens lay more frequently in winter as a result. More Maine power to heat the coop, and Maine egg power to fuel us.

These choices did not happen overnight. They happened gradually as little by little we grow our use of Maine energy sources. Incremental change is one way to put our values into practice. Many small changes add up and support a stronger community by “acting locally and thinking globally” in energy choices.

— Special to the Press Herald