The two challengers for governor presented their views Friday on how Maine could reduce its above-average heating and power costs at an energy industry forum that Gov. Paul LePage withdrew from at the last minute.

Both Democrat Mike Michaud and independent Eliot Cutler envisioned futures in which Maine could boost its economy and lower energy costs with more aggressive development of renewable resources and through greater efficiency.

And while both men offered some specifics, their presentations at the Environmental & Energy Technology Council of Maine’s forum on heating costs were heavy on the generalities that are typical during political campaigns.

“I think they’re very similar,” said Jeff Marks, executive director of E2Tech, which organized the event at the University of Southern Maine in Portland. “They’re interested in keeping Mainers warm. They’re strong on conservation and on the programs at Efficiency Maine. They see a diverse technology portfolio.”

Cutler, like LePage, supports expanding natural gas pipeline capacity. But Cutler made a distinction by calling gas a “bridge fuel” to a future powered largely by Maine’s diverse and underused renewable resources, such as wind, solar and tidal power. His comments on gas drew criticism from an environmental activist at the forum, but Cutler countered that factories in Maine will close this winter because of the high cost of natural gas for power production, and a future powered by renewables won’t happen overnight.

“We need to live and work and make policy in the real world,” he said.

Perhaps Cutler’s most-specific proposal is to create a Maine Energy Finance Authority, a way for the state to use low-interest, tax-exempt financing and public-private partnerships to help energy businesses invest and to build needed infrastructure, such as gas pipelines.

Michaud has less background in energy issues, but has embraced investment in weatherization, efficiency and a so-called clean-energy economy as the best path to job creation and lower costs. He noted the falling price of solar-electric panels and a recent study that identified the clean-tech sector as one with great job potential.

Michaud also took a swipe at LePage for the governor’s actions last year that prompted the Norwegian energy conglomerate Statoil to cancel its plans to build a pilot, offshore wind farm in Maine.

Michaud’s support for the clean-tech sector earned him an endorsement on Friday from the Maine Renewable Energy Association, which represents more than 2,500 workers at firms involved with generating power from wind, hydro, tidal and biomass.

Michaud also expressed his desire to cut Maine’s home heating oil consumption in half by 2030, describing it as “an aggressive goal.”

But Maine residents already have slashed home heating oil use by 45 percent between 2004 and 2009, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration. Market forces, in the form of high and volatile oil prices that are leading to greater efficiency and conversions to natural gas and wood pellets, could bring about that goal before then, regardless of who is governor.

Tux Turkel can be contacted at 791-6462 or

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