ARROWSIC — Mainers want and deserve access to an affordable way to generate power for our homes and businesses. Collectively, Mainers spend an average of $5 billion a year on out-of state fossil fuels when we could instead be developing clean, affordable energy from local sources.

The sun is the most abundant energy source on the planet, and we would do well to take greater advantage of it. Yet Maine is the only New England state without a solar incentive program and no strong policy to support greater use of this most natural resource. We are missing out on an important opportunity to increase our use of renewable energy, protect our environment and strengthen our economy.

Already, there are roughly 50 small businesses working in the solar industry in Maine, meaning that we have the capacity and, even more, the potential for a robust solar industry. By embracing next-generation renewable technologies, Maine’s economy can grow and energy costs can be lowered today and into the future.

This session, I sponsored L.D. 1652, a proposal to help Maine catch up with the rest of the nation in developing plentiful and cost-effective energy solutions and give a boost to Maine people and businesses by developing solar power in Maine.

Solar energy is a resource available in every part of our state, from rural towns to downtown service centers. With costs for electric systems at historic lows – prices for solar panels have plummeted 75 percent in the past five years alone – now is the time to invest in this abundant form of renewable energy. Rooftop solar panels alone could provide 24 percent of Maine’s electricity, according to a 2010 Energy Self-Reliant States report.

Additionally, solar power offers a clean and pollution-free alternative to dirty energy sources such as coal, oil or other fossil fuels, which contribute to air pollution and climate change. Like the rest of the country, Maine is dependent on energy that pollutes our natural resources. The consequences of this dependence are tragically evident, from extreme weather events and ocean acidification to poor air quality.

The American Lung Association’s most recent State of the Air Report gave 25 percent of Maine’s counties a C or D for air quality in 2013. Increasing use of clean energy alternatives like solar is critical to the effort of displacing dirty energy and confronting the threat of climate change. For example, a local business with a proposal to install 36 solar panels that will generate more than 10,000 kilowatt-hours of power will save almost 10,000 pounds of carbon emissions.

Finally, solar power will strengthen our state’s economy, create jobs and support our small-business economy. Research shows that for the same amount of energy, solar power creates 55 to 80 times more jobs than natural gas.

Solar energy is scaled to our communities and our economy – we don’t need to wait for a large corporation to come in and install a generating facility. And we have the education and training resources in our community college system poised to build the industry’s capacity to meet increasing demand.

The bill that I proposed establishes the foundation to advance solar energy development in Maine. By directing the Public Utilities Commission to lay out the costs and benefits of solar energy for Maine, we can better understand the potential value of solar, and be equipped to develop sound policies to support its use.

We all know that without a road map for where we want to go, it is harder to get there. This bill helps us get to a cleaner, less costly energy future.

Maine has a history of bipartisan cooperation on energy policy resulting in cost-saving measures like the PACE program, which helps Mainers fund upgrades for more efficient heating systems and proven weatherization and energy-efficiency programs.

While our state’s energy policy has become more of a partisan issue in the past three years, certain values unite us, and it is my hope that this solar bill – which was unanimously approved by the Energy Committee and has since been enacted by both the Maine House and Maine Senate – will mark a return to successful bipartisan energy policy.

— Special to the Press Herald