September 28, 2010

Libby Mitchell: Natural gas should run to Augusta

The gubernatorial candidate proposes a public-private partnership to cut the cost to the state.

By SUSAN M. COVER MaineToday Media State House Writer

BANGOR — Democratic gubernatorial candidate Libby Mitchell proposed an energy and environmental plan Monday that includes extending natural gas lines to Augusta and Waterville.

Mitchell, one of five candidates on the Nov. 2 ballot, released her latest policy proposal at a luncheon meeting of Fusion Bangor, a group of young professionals.

Her six-point plan includes borrowing $100 million over four years for the Land for Maine's Future program, "aggressive weatherization" of homes and businesses to cut energy costs, and implementing the Great Maine Forest Initiative to keep large tracts of land in sustainable timber management and to preserve public access.

For weatherization, Mitchell said she wants the state to guarantee loans to municipalities to help pay for upgrades to schools so "the money can go back into the classroom, quite frankly, instead of up the chimney."

Extending natural gas to the Augusta area was an idea first floated by Gov. John Baldacci in 2009. He proposed borrowing $4 million to switch the east side campus of state offices in Augusta to natural gas. But the proposal was dropped when lawmakers cut the overall borrowing package from $306 million to $150 million.

On Monday, Mitchell said she would not want the state to pay the full cost of putting in the lines. Rather, she would work with large local companies to form a public-private partnership. The state, businesses and residents could then tie into the lines, she said.

She said the gas that runs along the coast could serve as a "bridge" to other cheaper energy alternatives. In the Augusta area, the line already runs as close as Windsor.

"If we could bring it over to some of these cities in a public-private partnership, some business investment that's willing to do that, it would bring that cheaper fuel in," she said. "It goes right past us and we can't get there."

Independent Eliot Cutler has also proposed extending natural gas to other parts of the state, saying it should run along the Kennebec, Penobscot and Androscoggin rivers to help revitalize industry.

The natural-gas proposal was part of a plan that Mitchell released in a speech to 18 young professionals who met on the former campus of the Bangor Theological Seminary.

Other parts of her energy plan include merging the state Office of Energy Independence into a new Governor's Office of Strategic Initiatives and Jobs.

 

MaineToday Media State House Writer Susan M. Cover can be contacted at 620-7015 or at: scover@centralmaine.com

 

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