It’s easy to get frustrated with things in Augusta at this time of year as shortfalls and budget battles fill up the newspapers, but this year we’ve got at least one thing there to celebrate.

We entered 2013 with Gov. Paul LePage’s State of the State address setting the tone for the legislative session. In his address, he highlighted the key steps our state leaders needed to take this year in order to continue his work of improving Maine’s business climate. One of the most important efforts he flagged was the impact of energy on the Maine economy. His words from that speech say it clearly: “Maine’s energy costs are too high — and it’s killing economic opportunity.”

He went on to explain that Maine is paying far more than the national average for electricity and that Maine people could find significant savings if enough natural gas distribution was available for them to convert from oil to gas for their heating source.

The governor has been focused like a laser on improving the business climate in Maine, and his identification of energy as a hurdle is a central part of that overall effort.

Tackling energy prices is one of the clearest ways to cut costs for every Maine business and make it easier for new ventures to grow. Right now, Maine businesses are paying 14 percent more for energy than the rest of the country. As the governor said in the State of the State, “Just think if every Maine business could invest the additional 14 percent to create jobs and pay their employees higher salaries.”

Remarkably, the Legislature has produced a bipartisan energy bill this session that gets us a long way toward the governor’s goal. The omnibus energy bill on his desk directly responds to his request to cut energy costs for Mainers. Even better, it’s being supported by both parties in the legislature and was passed with overwhelming majorities in both the House and the Senate.

This bill gets right at the heart of our energy problem — Maine’s current lack of access to enough of the low-cost natural gas being enjoyed by the rest of the country. For the first time, the PUC will be told that its mission is to make electricity affordable for Maine people and it will be empowered to take action to get the natural gas flowing to Maine.

The price of natural gas directly affects the price of electricity because gas is often the cheapest source of electric generation. In addition, the bill will help people convert their homes and businesses to cheaper fuel sources and tighten their buildings up with energy efficiency projects.

This bill will make a huge difference for Maine’s economy. Putting Maine on the path to join the “natural gas revolution” that’s sweeping the country will be a major part of LePage’s legacy. He will also make history by signing into law the requirement that the PUC focus on lowering energy costs for the first time in the 100 years since it was created. Those are long-term solutions.

In the short term, the governor’s team and the Legislature have found ways to fund targeted rate relief for Maine businesses and help residents to switch to more efficient home heating systems. Yes, there may be more to do next year, such as looking at how best to promote low-cost renewable energy and take advantage of Maine’s geographic importance in linking Canada and southern New England. But now is the time to take a huge first step toward realizing the Governor’s vision through the omnibus energy bill becoming law.

It is rare that there is such broad agreement on important pieces of legislation at the State House. The large majority which voted for this bill is a testament to the strong support in our state for the governor’s energy agenda. Across party lines and around the state, Maine people know that energy costs are holding back our growth and cutting into our prosperity.

As the governor said on this topic in January, “Maine is competing nationally and internationally and we simply must do better, and we can do better.” With the omnibus energy bill, the state has shown that he was right — we can.

Robert Dorko, of Skowhegan, is president of the Industrial Energy Consumers Group. Ray McMullin, of Oakland, is the plant manager of Huhtamaki in Waterville and Fairfield. Together, they have more than 50 years of mill experience.

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