FARMINGTON – Ideas included hydro, wind, tidal, wood pellets, tires, construction debris and nuclear as alternative energy possibilities and incentives towards energy conservation were discussed at a breakfast forum titled, “Looking Toward our Energy Future” held at the University of Maine at Farmington this morning.
What became clear with all the ideas floated during the forum is that there isn’t a perfect answer.
“The best way to battle OPEC’s stranglehold on our energy dependence is to conserve, conserve, conserve,” said John Kerry, director of Maine’s Office of Energy Independence and Security. “We need to change our culture to be more energy efficient.”
A big crowd showed up to have breakfast and hear about the complexities of the world’s energy needs and the state’s energy policy response at the public forum held by the Western Maine Legislative Caucus.
Kerry said 85 percent of the world’s energy comes from fuel oil and natural gas, where as renewable energy sources, such as wind and water power, only account for less than 10 percent.
The state of Maine spends $6 to $8 billion every year on petroleum, money that goes to OPEC.
“We’re taking money and throwing it out the window,” Kerry said.
He noted coal produces 50 percent of all the electricity in the U.S. and urged the use of wind power to produce electricity. Electricity that can power cars.
“We need to look to wind and tell the Saudis to take a walk,” Kerry said. “We can plug our cars in at night when it’s much cheaper.” Currently the most efficient heating choices are geothermal and cord wood, he added.
“If you can conserve energy, it’s the cheapest fuel,” said Tim Vrabel, deputy director of the Maine Public Utilities Commission. “The first thing is to be accountable for the energy we use everyday.”
The state’s PUC, with a staff of five and known for its Efficiency Maine program promotes, among other things, compact fluorescent use for energy savings, an energy audit training program and programs in the classrooms.
“Energy efficiency is so important,” Vrabel said. “Our long-term planning has an emphasis on energy conservation.”
State Sen. Walter Gooley, R-Farmington said, “we shouldn’t exclude nuclear energy.” He noted once Maine Yankee, the state’s lone nuclear reactor closed, the energy deficit was replaced by natural gas.
State Rep. Tom Saviello, U-Wilton, noted there are problems with all energy sources, but recommended looking at off shore drilling for oil.
“It would help move us off foreign dependence on oil,” Saviello said. “Instead of $6 million going out we’d have $6 million coming in.” In responding to the ideas of energy efficiencies, he wondered about the people who can’t afford to make the upgrades. He also suggested using tires and clean construction debris as possible energy sources in Maine.
Kerry said those ideas have been shot down due to the environmental issues they raise.
Increasing the state’s tax on fuel oil was suggested by an audience member, but both Gooley and Saviello said lower income people can’t afford the higher costs of getting to work and heating their homes.
Overall, Kerry said, Maine produces 3,000 megawatts of power, but only uses between 1,500 and 2,000 megawatts. “There should be a benefit to the state,” he said of exporting the excess of power. The idea of using Canadian tidal, water and wind power sources is flawed due to technology upgrades needed in the transmission systems, he added.
“Renewable energy has a difficult time competing in the world market,” Kerry concluded.
For more on programs of the Maine Public Utilities Commission, go to www.efficiencymaine.com