By Maine Governor John Baldacci
Thanksgiving is just a few days away, but for too many Maine families, thoughts aren’t on turkeys with the trimmings or family gatherings. Instead, they’re worried about keeping the heat on this winter and being able to afford the gas they need to get to work every day.
The price of heating oil and gasoline are near historic highs, and there’s no guarantee of relief in sight.
It’s creating real strain, leaving many Maine families, senior citizens and businesses with a lot of frustration, anxiety and difficult choices.
There’s no quick fix for energy prices. But by planning effectively for the future, we can reduce our dependency on foreign oil. We need to as a state, and most importantly, nationally.
In Maine, we’re leading the way on the development of domestically produced, renewable and clean energy.
We have our windmills up and running in Mars Hill; we have over $2 billion worth of proposals for more wind power generation around the state and they’re in the permitting and pre-permitting process.
Maine has tremendous potential when it comes to wind, solar and tidal power, and to grow new industries to produce the equipment necessary to capitalize on that clean energy.
We also have the natural resources necessary for these new biofuels.
The University of Maine is working to perfect new technologies to create ethanol as part of the pulp-making process. The innovation holds the promise to revolutionize papermaking in Maine and open new markets for the Maine-made fuels.
But for all the potential and all the progress we’ve made, the opportunities of tomorrow won’t lower heating oil prices today.
My administration has developed an emergency action plan that will help to address high energy costs and avoid a crisis as winter reaches its full fury later this year.
First, with our Congressional delegation’s help, we will demand that Washington meet its obligation to fully fund heating assistance programs.
In Maine, more than 80 percent of households rely on oil heat. Price spikes like the one this year hit us particularly hard, and low-income Mainers - half of whom are senior citizens on fixed incomes - suffer the most.
The federal government must meet its obligations and increase funding for heating assistance.
I’m signing a letter along with the Coalition of New England Governors, to urge Congress to approve this additional heating contingency fund.
We must demand that they meet their obligations. But we’re only one state out of 50. We can’t solve all of the world’s problems. But we can do what we need to do to ease the burden on other Maine families.
I have activated the state’s Energy Task Force, which is part of Maine’s Energy Emergency Plan.
The Task Force brings together the agencies and resources that the State will use to respond if the energy situation worsens.
Costs are high right now, but the worst of winter is still in front of us. The work we do today will put us in a better position to respond in case of an emergency this winter or a fuel crisis.
We’re also going to work with private charities as part of our Keep ME Warm program to have the additional funds so we can help those who don’t qualify for these programs.
We have 1,000 kits that have been made available for lowering energy bills. They’re going fast and I suggest you call the State’s information line at 2-1-1 for more information.
The Public Utilities Commission has provided an additional $400,000 to this program through so that we’ll be able to purchase products in bulk so that we can reach more customers.
I’m also asking the Maine Department of Transportation to establish a “Free Fare Friday” program that will let people take the bus on Fridays at no cost.
The idea is that we can introduce people to a cheaper, easier way to get around on Fridays and that will translate into greater use of transit the other six days of the week.
This pilot project will begin the Friday after Thanksgiving and run for six weeks with an ad campaign.
I’ve also talked to the President of the Maine State Chamber of Commerce, Dana Connors. Government and business need to work together and we both need to change the way we think and operate these businesses.
We need to be flexible with workers. We need to make changes that will allow them to take public transportation, car or van pool, or telecommute.
It’s not going to hurt our productivity, and it could help reduce the demand for gasoline and save money.
And finally, I’m calling on Mainers to do what they do best: Look out for one another.
As the temperature drops, we need to make sure our neighbors make it through this winter safe and sound.
The State of Maine is going to do its part. That’s what we can do and what we must do.
And working together, we’re going to make sure that we’ll be through this storm safe and sound.
The above content reflects the opinions of the author and not necessarily the policies of the National Governors Association.