Maine’s Comprehensive Energy Plan and the dedicated man behind it — John Kerry

By Ramona du Houx - October 19th, 2009 ·

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John Kerry of the Governor’s Office of Energy Independence and Security of Maine. Photo by Ramona du Houx

The transmission of electrical energy will be the supply line for Maine’s clean-energy revolution. The governor’s vision of making Maine an energy exporter by transmitting energy along transportation corridors could create thousands of sustainable jobs in the state. Revenues from leasing the transportation corridor’s land would supply the state with funds to weatherize homes, creating more jobs. The man in charge of implementing the state’s overall energy plan is John Kerry.

“Fundamentally what the Comprehensive Energy Plan does is chart a 50-year vision for Maine’s energy future,” said Kerry. “It moves us from an energy fossil-fuel-orientated culture to a more energy conservation and efficiency culture, on to a sustainable-energy culture in the future.”

Just as energy issues began heating up across the nation, with oil prices hitting record highs, Kerry had just settled in as the director of the Governor’s Office of Energy Independence and Security. A position he had held until 1979 when the office was disbanded. Baldacci reestablished the office when he was elected.

“The Office of Energy Independence and Security coordinates the overall state energy policy. Mainly, it establishes the policies and frameworks that are going to integrate energy, economic development, and environmental issues,” said the director.

Kerry believes the Comprehensive Energy Plan will be the driver for Maine’s economic engine into the future.

“The key is we are well positioned; we have established a vision with a long-term plan.
Maine is ahead of the nation with its plans to become energy independent. We developed the Comprehensive Energy Plan long before the nation began thinking about one. The governor has been visionary with this. We are at the forefront,” said Kerry.

“We have resources that other states don’t have; the ocean, our trees that we are creating biomass from, and the wind that we are cultivating. We have more wind capacity than all the other New England states combined. We have over 100,000 megawatts of wind power potential off the Gulf of Maine coast. We only use about 3,000 megawatts in Maine. The state’s renewable energy potential is incredible.”

Kerry went on to explain the objectives of the plan. He said, “This Comprehensive Energy Plan deals with international, national, and internal state issues. The energy future for the state of Maine will be based on principles, programs, and strategies that:

• increases energy efficiency, conservation and weatherization;
• fosters renewable energy;
• enhances the development of biofuels and other forms of energy, including co-generation, and that enhance the infrastructure for natural gas, oil and petroleum products;
• establishes state leadership in energy practices, so the state leads by example, making state buildings energy efficient, using alternative fuels;
• enhances transportation systems for roads, trucks and trains;
• and that develops energy emergency services.”

Some of this work started before Kerry was appointed. Pulling it altogether into a comprehensive plan and then implementing it, working with stakeholders from all areas of society, in the public and private sectors, became Kerry’s mission.

“The biggest challenge has been drafting the Comprehensive Energy Plan for the state and beginning its implementation — taking it from the conceptual to a reality. A lot of diverse groups, from the public and private sector, had to sign on to it. We needed bond issues for it and legislation passed,” said Kerry. “This dynamic plan is a foundation. It creates a roadmap to the future. It will take an ongoing commitment with financial resources and infrastructure. What’s unique about it is that it is adaptable for new, energy-efficient technologies as they emerge, like heat pumps or electric cars. Eventually, all homes and business in Maine could be heated by electricity.”

Kerry described the importance of the energy transmission corridors:

“In the ’70s we recommended that we reduce our dependence on oil, but we didn’t have the infrastructure to transmit alternative energy sources. That’s key. The energy corridors are meant to enhance and facilitate our energy infrastructure, so we can export energy efficiently.

“Right now, if someone wanted to transmit energy, they would have to go through the Department of Environmental Protection, the Public Utilities Commission, and other government agencies to get permitting, as well as applying to every municipality that they would transmit the energy through. With transmission corridors on state land, the rights-of-way are already established. Which means companies won’t have go through that process. Currently we have twelve different projects interested in the corridors.”

Last spring there was some controversy over using transmission corridors that was settled by establishing a study to be conducted by the Legislature.

“The Legislature is conducting a study, to be completed by December 2nd, 2009, to see what the value of the land and what the material benefits for the Maine taxpayers, residents, and businesses would be. The transmission corridors could be 300 miles long. They could start in Canada and go all the way down to Massachusetts,” said Kerry. “The governor wanted to have the funds from leasing the land where transmission corridors would be go, to help the citizens of Maine weatherize their homes, thus spurring jobs and helping people cut energy costs.”

In order to implement the overall energy plan, Maine needs to work with neighboring states and neighboring provinces. In September of 2008, the governor convened a regional conference with Eastern Canadian premiers and New England state governors. They discussed energy issues and established working relationships. This year, the second conference took place in New Brunswick, Canada, where they became united in the goal of establishing a New England transmission line.

“We are working with other states on energy coordination, being part of New England ISO, and we are working with Canada. We’ve created a regional blueprint, which outlines all our resources and how best to transmit energy throughout the region. The document sets principles and guidelines that help us work collaboratively with federal government, state governments, and provincial governments,” said Kerry. “We all know that we need to work together, as a region, because it’s an opportunity for us all.”

Midwestern states are lobbying in Washington, DC to get their energy transmission lines up and running first. New England experts say that it is better to keep electrical energy transmission regional for two reasons: national security and cost. Kerry said that logic should prevail.

“Electrical generating capacity, in the past, has been a regional issue,” said Kerry. “If electricity is transmitted over long distances, energy is lost. The longer the distance, the more electrical energy is wasted being transmitted. It will cost significantly less to get that power to Northeastern consumers from generation facilities that are based here in the Northeast.”

For the average citizen, questions arise as to how best to save funds with energy efficiency. Navigating different state Web sites and agencies has frustrated citizens and businesses in the past.

“Until now it has been confusing, discovering where a citizen or business in Maine could get help with weatherization and energy efficiency. The governor recognized the problem and last session the Efficiency Maine Trust and Board was established. It combines Efficiency Maine, from the Public Utilities Commission, and the RGGI Trust,” said Kerry.

The Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI) was effectively launched in September 2008 with the first carbon allowance auction in the United States. In just a year, RGGI has generated $13.5 million for energy-conservation efforts in Maine.

“They are entrusted to bring all these energy-efficient programs together, so they can be readily accessed. It will be a one-stop shop in energy efficiency. It will also put million of dollars into our economy, because there will be more work with jobs in energy efficiency and weatherization,” said Kerry.

The new Efficiency Maine Trust and Board will formulate programs and structures to achieve the weatherization of 100 percent of Maine homes, 50 percent of Maine businesses, and the reduction heating fuel consumption by 20 percent.

“Last year we implemented an energy emergency hotline for energy needs, using the 211 network, where you call in to receive help in programs throughout the state,” he said. “Using that system as a template, now all a resident will have to do to garner information about energy efficiency and weatherization is call the Efficiency Maine Trust.”

After being the energy director, Kerry went on to serve the state in the Legislature as a senator. He then went to New York for ten years and returned to head up Catholic Charities of Maine for five years.

“That’s when Gov. Baldacci asked if I could help out with his Keep ME Warm initiative. He’s a man ahead of his time,” said Kerry. “After that he asked me to become energy director. This is an avocation for me, not a job. I enjoy helping people and finding solutions for them. Energy is an everlasting issue, like food. We all need it. The world needs us to be energy efficient.”