Maine’s Public Utilities Commission is once again considering whether ratepayers should subsidize the extension of natural gas pipelines.

The U.S. has an abundant and relatively inexpensive supply of natural gas, and it does burn efficiently. Modern drilling techniques, however, are energy-intensive, and that fact, coupled with the leakage of methane inherent in drilling, means that natural gas and propane are only marginally better than coal and oil in terms of their impact on global warming.

The idea of gas as a “bridge” or transition fuel is unrealistic; if we invest in infrastructure, we are locking ourselves into greenhouse gas emissions – and climate impacts – for decades to come.

One answer to Maine’s energy needs does not require such disruptive and unsustainable technology. Rather, it is simple and straightforward, and is right on our doorsteps. I’m referring, of course, to solar energy.

For years, photovoltaic panels have allowed us and other home and business owners to generate our own electricity, but with recent price reductions, and the continuing 30 percent federal tax credit, this option makes even more sense today.

Moreover, solar panels can power efficient air-to-air heat pumps, so that a single solar array, either freestanding or roof-mounted, makes it possible for the home or business owner to meet both his electrical and heating needs through renewable energy. This is a breakthrough development, and has huge implications for our response to climate change.

Given that not everyone can afford an “up-front” purchase, I encourage legislators to pass enabling legislation that assists Maine citizens in financing the installation of solar panels; lease them from for-profit businesses, or organize community-based installations that can serve residents whose homes don’t have good southern exposure.

And the PUC? It should help Maine move away from fossil fuels, not extend our dependency on them.

Joe Hardy