Maine’s progress toward comprehensive, aggressive policies for diversifying its energy offerings and improving its energy economics received a burst of momentum under the Baldacci administration, but now is in danger of stopping.

Gov. Paul LePage has expending plenty of energy of his own to extol a pro-business climate, but he is keeping Maine businesses waiting on a plan to provide something they’ve clamored to have: more options, lower costs and greater flexibility on powering their operations.

The administration and lawmakers cannot delay much longer before addressing these needs, as well as the needs of Maine residents who are facing crippling heating oil costs. Failing to do so merely means the further burning of precious money and time.

Enough of that has been done already. Too much energy has been expended debating faraway, as-yet nonexistent proposals such as new nuclear plants or offshore drilling rigs, for example. Those are just concepts for now, not policy. No policy, in fact, has yet to appear, except to keep all options open.

This approach could easily be interpreted as indecisiveness.

LePage has taken some heartening steps recently, such as the appointment of a former state representative, Ken Fletcher of Winslow, to direct the state’s Office of Energy Independence and Security. As a former member of the Utilities, Energy and Technology Committee, Fletcher understands the state’s predicament.

(And if the Legislature passes L.D. 710, a bill to make this position Maine’s energy cost-cutter in chief, the job becomes perhaps the state’s most important in terms of energy policy. It received approval of the utilities committee on March 23.)

And the proposed reappointment of Thomas Welch to the Maine Public Utilities Commission — the most important public panel in Maine that never gets the credit it deserves — seems an inspired choice. Welch spent 12 years on the PUC, leaving in 2005, and his qualifications to serve are unquestionable.

With these pieces in place, however, the governor must start refining his proposals to continue the work of his predecessor: encouraging energy efficiency in the nation’s oldest housing stock, promoting more diversity of heating offerings aside from oil, reducing the cost of electricity to industry and consumers, and investing in new forms of alternative energy development from wood, wind and water.

Certainly, this can come from utilizing the open marketplace and freedom of choice, hallmarks of this administration’s policies. The uncomfortable truth, however, is that deregulation of the state’s electrical generation has not meant reduced costs for users, and the vagaries of the petroleum and natural gas markets are leaving Maine exposed and at risk.

Crafting an energy policy for this state will not be as simple as letting the natural economic forces do their thing. The state has been smacked by the invisible hand quite enough.

This administration should not hesitate to smack back.


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