Maine may anchor New England, but its rugged terrain and fiercely independent streak would lead some visitors to think that they were in the American mountain west. One of the few northeastern states with vast open space and few big cities, Maine also gets more than a little chilly during winter.
The state requires a lot of heating oil to get it through the winters, and ranks high for the average number of days needed to keep homes warm during that time of year. While the state holds its own with the amount of electricity generated through sources like wind power, it still has to import most of its energy. With future energy efficiency concerns an issue, the state’s Republican-dominated legislature passed An Act to Improve Maine’s Energy Security (LDD 553) earlier this year.
The law, which passed without Tea Party-backed Paul LePage’s signature, establishes the following goals:
- Reduce oil consumption from 2009 levels 30 percent by 2030 and 50 percent by 2050
- Shift more freight shipped in Maine to rail and marine transport.
- Invest in clean energy, including wind power. (Even the Bush Compound in Kennebunkport has a wind turbine!)
- Establish rebates and other consumer incentives to retire older and fuel inefficient vehicles.
- Expand and invest in public transportation, including bus and light rail.
- Ramp up home and commercial building weatherization.
- Adopt “other strategies that can enable Maine to achieve the oil-reduction targets.”
The passage of the bill should not be a surprise. Maine has always followed its own path, socially and politically. While other east coast states have let the massive apartment and hotel blocks build up near the shore, Maine preserved its scenic and rugged coastline. While most of the country backed President Franklin Roosevelt in the 1930s, Maine was one of the few to support Republican candidates; and when Democrats self-immolated in 1994, Maine elected Angus King, an independent who has been outspoken in his support for wind power. No one can pigeon-hole or define Maine, a proudly self reliant state since it broke away from Massachusetts almost 200 years ago.
But Maine is energy dependent, and while the devil is in the details, it is impressive that Maine got such a bill passed in the first place. Home heating oil costs are the bane of living through a Maine winter, and future oil spikes will leave the state’s 1.3 million residents vulnerable economically.
The implementation of the law is up to the Maine Energy Trust, and they have a tough task ahead. For example, public transport is expensive and will be a tough sell when its largest metro area (greater Portland) has only half a million people. But with the state’s residents spending US$15 million a day on fuel (or about $1400 per household a year), a smart plan is an opportunity to develop more jobs–and keep more dollars–at home. And despite Maine’s reputation as pristine, all counties save one got an American Lung Association grade of “C” or below in a 2010 report; try driving through the resort towns like Ogunquit or Kennebunkport on a perfect summer day and you’ll see why.
Maine revels in its independence. We will see if it becomes an energy independence leader.
Leon Kaye is a business consultant and writer, Editor and Founder of GreenGoPost.com and contributes to The Guardian Sustainable Business; you can follow him on Twitter. He lives in Silicon Valley. After visiting 50+ countries, he recently discovered how fantastic New England really is.