On Thursday morning, the governor addressed the annual meeting of the Energy and Environmental Technology Council of Maine, better known as E2Tech.

He was there to talk energy, but couldn’t restrain himself from throwing pointed personal barbs at Maine Senate President Justin Alfond, opining on the damage “young people” are inflicting on Maine and describing the upcoming gubernatorial contest as “the hate campaign of all campaigns.”

The performance was unfortunate, not simply for the governor’s insults and non-sequitors, but because those distractions overshadowed an energy message worth listening to.

As the governor stated in his remarks, his energy policy is simple: lower home heating costs for Maine residents and lower electricity costs for homeowners, businesses and industry.

Maine is the most oil-dependent state for home heating, with about 70 percent of households using oil as their primary heating source. Simultaneously, constrained natural gas supplies in New England caused wholesale electricity costs to grow 55 percent last year alone.

But it’s home heating costs, in particular, that are wreaking havoc on household budgets. The average Mainer spends $3,000 to heat a home. For Maine’s poorest residents, those costs are an extraordinary percentage of household income.

And since we don’t produce any oil in Maine, those dollars are largely going out of state.

From a policy perspective, then, there is perhaps no more pressing issue than quickly reversing Maine’s residential heating oil dependence.

And the governor deserves credit for keeping this issue squarely in the public domain and speaking about it with the passion it rightly deserves.

It was the governor who originally proposed using Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI) revenues for energy upgrades and home fuel conversions. And last session’s landmark omnibus energy bill – which ultimately passed over the governor’s unfortunate veto – dedicated 35 percent of RGGI revenues ($4 million a year over three years) to subsidize home energy upgrades and conversions.

Just last week, the governor proposed harvesting more timber from Maine’s public lands to funnel additional revenues into home heating conversions. While statutorily proscribed and environmentally specious, the governor nevertheless deserves credit for thinking creatively about how to generate additional resources for this effort.

And the stakes are immense. Through a combination of efficiency and conversions to alternative fuel sources – including natural gas, wood pellets and heat pumps – Mainers can potentially halve their home heating costs.

Think about the stimulative economic benefits if we multiply $1,500 in energy savings over Maine’s 375,000 oil-burning homes. That’s about a half-billion dollars annually staying in Mainers’ pockets, to say nothing of the environmental returns.

Some Democrats and environmental groups are suspicious of the governor’s motives. They say the mechanism for funding conversions through RGGI dollars only exists because they spent years advocating for and defending efficiency programs. True.

They say the governor’s proposal for $1 million in new funding is a pittance, as well as a cynical political ploy to divide the environmental community while also pitting struggling Mainers against environmentalists. Perhaps.

But it’s difficult to label a 25 percent funding boost a pittance and the governor’s detractors are probably giving him too much credit for strategic political maneuvering.

They also say that if the governor were serious about this issue, he’d rein in Republicans on the Appropriations Committee who are continually looking to gut RGGI revenues to balance the 2015 budget. He should do so publicly.

But that doesn’t mean we can’t give credit to a governor who – God knows – I personally have spilled gallons of ink publicly critiquing.

The fact is, the governor is not only right on this issue, he has politically out-messaged the Democrats.

The governor is out talking about the debilitating costs of heating our homes – an issue every Mainer feels deeply and understands intuitively – while Democrats are talking about efficiency, weatherization and solar.

Close observers understand those are two sides of the same coin, but for the average Mainer struggling to put oil in the tank, the Democrats’ prescriptions seem academic and detached.

That’s not to say they’re wrong, of course. In fact, efficiency programs and renewables like solar are essential to reducing demand, suppressing costs and creating important environmental benefits for Maine. And when they’re packaged together with home heating conversions, homeowners achieve the greatest return on investment.

But on the message battlefield where legislative issues and political campaigns are won, the governor has the upper hand. Regardless, the politics are immaterial to Mainers struggling to heat their homes. Even with the governor’s proposed infusion of new dollars, heating upgrades and conversion will only reach 3,300 homes per year, leaving roughly 97 percent of the housing stock (365,000 units) still devastatingly dependent on oil.

That’s unacceptable. The governor and legislative leaders should put politics aside and craft a bipartisan solution that funds upgrades and conversions on a mass scale.

Michael Cuzzi is a former campaign aide to President Obama, Secretary of State John Kerry and former U.S. Rep. Tom Allen. He manages the Portland office for VOX Global, a strategic communications and public affairs firm headquartered in Washington, D.C. He can be contacted at:

[email protected]

Twitter: @CuzziMJ