Sunday, November 2, 2008

What does Maine's energy future look like?

Mainebiz, along with Maine Public Broadcasting Network (MPBN), hosted an energy symposium on Thursday, at the Wyndham Hotel, in South Portland.

The Powering Up Maine event was meant to highlight how Maine's businesses are dealing with rising energy costs in the state. Like any event remotely linked to alternative energy, and tagged with a "green" label, this one was well-attended, with close to 200 participants on hand. It probably didn't hurt that former Governor, Angus King, was the keynote speaker.

King, who has become a champion for wind power talked about wind being the solution to our energy needs. He laid out a case for wind having the potential to gradually replace our dependence on fossil fuels. Since Maine relies heavily on fossil fuels, it is King's contention that Maine must look for new sources within the state to meet its energy needs. Citing Maine's abundant wind resources, particularly those in Casco Bay, his proposal is for a series of "wind ranches," built miles offshore on large platforms.

“The wind potential off the coast of Maine could make us the Saudia Arabia of the world,” said King."

According to King, there is a great deal of interest in the idea, but it will require action on the part of Maine's business community and policymakers for it to happen.

King is one of the principals in a wind power firm in western Maine, Independence Wind, LLC.

After the keynote, a panel discussion featuring business owners and state leaders was held, highlighting some of the challenges inherent in creating new energy sources, and alternative methods of power generation.

The panel featured Sara Burns, president and CEO of Central Maine Power Company, Tony Buxton, chair of Preti Flaherty's Energy and Utilities Practice Group, Pat Coon, managing partner of Revision Energy, Don Hudson, president of The Chewonki Foundation, and David Wilby, director of development and public affairs, at First Wind.

Burns spoke about issues faced by CMP as it upgrades its power grid. This project is essential in bringing additional new electrical capacity online. Currently, the company is running into a variety of challenges from residential customers, and others, exhibiting "not in my backyard" behaviors, and opposition to necessary improvements required to complete the upgrades.

Coon spoke extensively about conservation and efficiency being keys to the state's energy challenges it faces. He spoke about the lack of understanding that many residential electrical consumers have about basic elements of their consumption.

One of the challenges I recognized from the panel discussion (which was being recorded by MPBN for later broadcast) is that even among the five panelists, there was a lack of agreement about what represents the right energy mix for Maine. What percentages should oil, natural gas, hydro, biomass, wind make up?

Buxton talked about natural gas as being a key component, which wasn't agreed upon by the other four panelists. Both Buxton and Burns talked about an important, and often overlooked component of alternative energy and the greening of our power production options--jobs for Mainers.

In a state where residents of its rural areas are more and more turning to gaming/gambling as economic development tools, jobs and workforce development should be given their proper place in the mix, when alternative energy development is discussed.

Beyond that, Thursday's symposium is an important initial step to further discussions about what Maine's energy landscape will look like in five to 10 years.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

When a lawyer on a panel advocates a position and you're not sure why, ask yourself, who do they represent?