But first . . .

DID YOU WATCH IT?

In case you missed yesterday’s column, you simply have to watch this. If you like it, pass it on to Reagan fans, Obama fans, and Obama foes. If you don’t like it, let me know and I will extend your subscription by a month.

And now . . .

WHAT WE SHOULD BE PUTTING IN OUR OCEANS

Windmills. And this doesn’t come from Don Tobias Quixote, but from my friend Matt Simmons, well-known Houston oil-industry boutique investment banker turned alternative-energy evangelist. Matt has been called “the Paul Revere of peak oil” – as in . . . global production is peaking and will soon begin to fall, so we’d better get on the stick.

Matt posts this plan over at the Ocean Energy Institute he founded. It calls for offshore windmills on both our coasts and in the Great Lakes – and for algae biofuels using agricultural and sewage runoff. (We may be running short of oil, but we’re swimming in sewage.) I don’t begin to have the expertise to evaluate any of this, but some of you do (please share your thoughts), and I was pleased to see Matt’s ideas highlighted in Maine governor John Baldacci’s state of the State address earlier this year.

Because I love Maine, and because much of what the Governor had to say has wider application, I excerpt that address at some length here:

January 21, 2010
State of the State
Governor John Elias Baldacci
7 p.m., Thursday, January 21, 2010

. . . In the last 12 months, State revenues have fallen by $1.1 billion dollars. Unemployment has topped 8 percent; housing and businesses are struggling; and people are uncertain and anxious.

It’s a time of great turmoil. But it’s also a time of incredible opportunity and revolutionary change. A time when our State is breaking with the comfortable past to blaze a new trail.

We have come together to say enough, to put our foot down and to put an end to the circumstances that have held our people and our economy hostage. Today, we are laying the groundwork for economic revitalization and freedom from the tyranny of foreign oil.

Are we there yet? No.

But we are on our way.

Despite the difficulties we face, the hard choices and hard work ahead, the next chapter in Maine’s history will be one of resurgence, growth and opportunity. As I report to you tonight on the State of the State, I am not sullen or deterred by the road ahead.

. . . I see a Maine that is energy secure, with highly educated and successful people. Natural resources that are protected, accessible and put to work. A place where innovation and creativity prevail. And cities, towns and villages draw people from around the world to a quality of life unmatched. This is our job.

We are in the midst of unprecedented times. Locked in a struggle between recession and recovery. The choices we make will help to determine which way Maine goes.

About a month ago, I submitted to the Legislature my plan to close a $438 million dollar shortfall in the State budget. It continues themes you’ve heard from me before: A leaner government, increased efficiencies and frugality.

. . . During the last seven years, my administration has been aggressive about cutting the size of State government. We’ve eliminated 1,000 positions, about 8.8 percent of the State’s workforce. State workers have taken shutdown days, lost pay raises and are now required to pay a portion of their health care. We’ve combined State agencies and departments, school administrations, and county and State corrections. And we are continuing our efforts to find efficiencies and to reshape government at all levels to be less expensive.

. . . Maine has almost 500 municipalities plus 16 counties. We have a local government for every 2,500 State residents. We cannot afford that redundancy and the duplication. But we have also recognized that local governments need help. With our unified corrections system, we have curbed State and local spending for jails and frozen property taxes needed for this area, helping counties to hold increases to their lowest level in many years. The system is projected to save $189 million dollars in property taxes over the next five years. In addition, school funding for this budget will still be $352 million dollars more than it was when I took office seven years ago, even after the proposed reductions. And over the last five years, State aid to schools has increased faster than the cost of essential programs and services for the classrooms.

. . . I will not support a tax increase to balance this budget. Working families and businesses simply can’t afford it. I don’t question the motives of those who seek a tax increase. They look around and see real problems and people struggling. Their heart tells them they have to do something. My heart says the same thing. But I know that the best way to help all Maine people is to promote job growth and economic recovery. To spread opportunity and give our people a chance for prosperity. We can’t tax our way out of our problems, but we can grow our way out.

As President Kennedy said: “A rising tide lifts all boats.”

And that’s why I have an aggressive agenda that is already creating jobs today and will continue to create jobs for years to come. It begins with our people and our natural resources. Right now, Maine is leading New England in wind power generation. And every day this important sector is growing. Producing renewable and safe electricity.

But we have only begun to tap the potential for wind. Work going on today by Habib Dagher at the University of Maine, with private-sector partners and critical support from the federal government, is positioning our State at the forefront of a new energy revolution. We have it within our power to develop new, cutting edge sources of energy that can help to forever reshape the world.

From start to finish, Maine has a role to play. We can develop the technology; use composites from the University of Maine to build the turbines; and lower electricity rates. That means good jobs. It’s also important for communities to see the benefits of new energy development. That’s why I am supporting legislation that makes sure wind projects produce tangible benefits to host communities. Real benefits that communities can see and feel, like lower property taxes or improved public services.

There is a burning urgency to the work we are doing. We can not wait; too much is in the balance. What&’s remarkable is that the right and left should be united on the need to free ourselves from foreign oil and all that dependency does to our people, our economy and our world.

Whether you believe in global warming or not, ending our dependency on foreign oil is a matter of national security that demands action now. In 2008, this Legislature set a goal of producing 2 Gigawatts of wind power by 2020. With 430 Megawatts already permitted, Maine is ahead of the schedule. We are on the brink of a new day. Will we allow the clock to be turned back to midnight or will we embrace the dawn? The choice is as stark as night and day.

In the coming weeks, I will submit legislation to continue our aggressive pursuit of offshore wind energy. The plan, which is the result of my Ocean Energy Task Force, will help to spark this new industry and confirm Maine’s leadership role. We will set a target of producing 5 Gigawatts of electricity from offshore turbines by 2030. That sounds like a long time from now, but in the birth of a new technology it’s just a blink.

In just two years, there will be a prototype turbine in the water, producing electricity. And in five years, the amount of power produced will double.

Already, our efforts are being recognized. The DeepCwind Consortium at the University of Maine already includes more than 35 public and private partners. The project has earned nearly $25 million dollars in competitive grants and is in line for additional federal support. Maine competed nationally and was one of just 12 sites in the entire country that has received this support to construct an offshore wind laboratory.

There are no sure things, but the plan has tremendous potential to create thousands of jobs in Maine and attract billions of dollars worth of investment. Permitted and approved wind power development in Maine already represents more than $1 billion dollars of capital investment in our economy.

When it comes to energy, Maine’s potential is not limited to wind alone.

Matt Simmons of Rockland is one of the world’s leading thinkers about the oil industry and its limitations. Matt founded the Ocean Energy Institute, which is working with some of the most prominent researchers in the world to develop a new source of energy. Matt is working on an innovative approach that would utilize wind and tidal power to make ammonia, which could be handled and used much like propane.

Imagine, using the power of the wind and waves to create a new energy source almost literally out of thin air. Matt’s imagined it, and he’s working to make it real. My administration is working with the Ocean Energy Institute, which is planning to build a pilot plant within the next two years.

And Maine is right in the middle of the action.

Our future doesn’t solely depend on new technologies. Maine can also look to its forests to help provide for an independent future. Just as our woodlands powered Maine’s industrialization, they can contribute to new industries. Bio-fuels, like ethanol, and a new generation of boilers can turn wood into the energy and electricity we need for our industries and our homes.

Whether it’s our ability to produce energy ourselves from sustainable resources or our strategic location between energy-rich Canada and the needs of southern New England, Maine is in a position to benefit.

I’m talking about new jobs, lower electricity rates and cleaner air and water.

It goes beyond turbines on a ridge or bio-mass boilers at paper mills. Our new energy future can reach into every home, bringing benefits that are felt throughout our economy.

Maine is a national leader in weatherization and conservation efforts. We know that any serious effort to reduce our dependency on oil starts with conservation. It’s where we get the biggest bang for the buck. Two weeks ago, Maine awarded nearly $9 million dollars in grants to companies around the State committed to reducing their energy consumption, which will leverage about $81 million dollars in private investment. Using estimates from the Department of Energy, that translates into more than 950 jobs. But for Tex Tech Industries in Monmouth, the grants are a little more personal. The investment will pay for improvements that will save between 45 and 50 jobs that were slated to head offshore. Those good jobs will be saved because energy improvements will help Tex Tech hold its costs in line with its competitors in the Far East.

Conservation means jobs. And for those families at Tex Tech, it’s the difference between hope and despair.

Our efforts aren’t limited to just businesses. We also have a new program for homeowners that can provide rebates of up to $3,000 dollars for weatherization and heating upgrades. That’s money coming right back to families who make the investment to cut their energy bills. It’s available to anyone, regardless of income. The program helps families determine how to be more energy efficient and make the improvements, and the results can cut energy bills by up to half.

Government can’t solve every problem, but as the grants and rebate program show, it can give businesses and families the tools to find their own answers. . . .

☞ Incidentally, and not to totally ruin your week, but Matt Simmons believes the undersea gusher we see on TV is just a sideshow that couldn’t possibly account for the giant lake of oil he says is near the ocean floor. He thinks the blow-out is much worse than we yet know, and several miles from the wellhead.

 

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