As we enjoy what will likely be some of the warmest days of the summer this July, it’s difficult to think about another cold winter.

Fortunately, that’s just what some state and local leaders are doing because of the steadily increasing cost of petroleum. Last week New England governors met in Boston to call upon the federal government to increase the aid for home heating assistance to avert what some are predicting will be a crisis this winter. Locally, leaders in some communities are working to set up local assistance programs and temporary shelters. A state task force is meeting to come up with recommendations.

With heating oil at an average of $4.71 a gallon in the summer – a time when demand is usually low – all of these measures are necessary in a state where 80 percent of homes are heated with oil. However, Maine needs to be doing more than planning for this winter. Experts who follow oil prices and energy consumption are predicting that prices will continue to climb steadily in coming years.

That’s because, while U.S. consumption of oil is actually declining, the economies in other countries, like China and India, are growing so fast that the demand will continue to go up. The Energy Information Administration is estimating that U.S. oil consumption will decline by approximately 400,000 barrels per day in 2008, but the world consumption will increase by 900,000 barrels per day in 2008 and 1.4 million barrels in 2009.

For a state like Maine, where people already spend a much larger percentage of their income on oil than people in other states, that means we need to be thinking now about what we’re going to be doing 10 years from now. We need to be thinking creatively about innovations and solutions. Because while conservation and government subsidy might be able to get us through the winter, they won’t be able to save us when it costs $200 to fill up our gas tanks.

Former Gov. Angus King has offered up one such solution – a 5,000-megawatt wind farm in the Gulf of Maine. While the project would need to overcome substantial hurdles, such as developing the technology and finding funding, the return on the investment would be well worth it. Such a project could provide power for every home and vehicle in Maine. The energy generated would be clean and renewable. It would free us of a dependence on petroleum, which largely takes money out of our economy and sends it to other countries, some of which, as King has pointed out, don’t like us very much.

The project would be expensive ($15 billion-$20 billion), but much of that money could stay right here. It would generate not just energy, but thousands of jobs. King has suggested that a Maine-based company like Cianbro could construct the platforms necessary for the turbines, using technology similar to what the company has built for oil drilling platforms.

There are some who might dismiss this idea as another grand scheme, similar to King’s initiative to put laptops in the hands of every student in Maine. King has indeed been one to put forth big ideas, but that’s just the type of visionary thinking this state needs at a time like this.

Brendan Moran, editor

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