Exclusive interview with Governor John E. Baldacci
By Ramona du Houx
April 7th, 2009
Governor John E. Baldacci sat down and talked about how Maine could become an energy hub of renewable energy for New England, which will put thousands of Mainers to work.
Many wind projects around the state are already in motion, including feasibility studies for offshore wind development in the Gulf of Maine. The state is currently leading New England by being the largest producer of wind energy. Now, the governor’s friendship and partnership with Premier Shawn Graham of New Brunswick is resulting in plans to make a commerce energy corridor, which will export energy to New England.
“Our economy will be jumpstarted with the development of renewable, domestic-based energy. The commerce corridor will carry multiple energy resources. If we can use the state transportation right-of-way and others the state has, it will be efficient. We are talking about covering an area from Houlton to York County and into the Boston market. It’s a huge line, which will take a few years to build.
“The first phase of the line means $2 billion coming into the state; another $2 billion in wind energy alone is huge. That’s $4 billion in private investment funds just to start with. The public will benefit from the property taxes gained and the lease payments. The people doing the work will draw good incomes, which enables them to shop, take their families out to eat, stimulating the Maine economy.
“The lease payments would provide a revenue stream into the state for weatherization, energy efficiency, new forms of energy, research, and tax relief. It’s important to continue our research and development around new energies and cutting-edge technologies to help business and industry to be successful.”
Lease revenues paid to the state could potentially mean tens of millions of dollars annually and could help leverage bonds for zero-interest loans to owners of homes and businesses.
“That constant stream of revenues and the collaboration with credit unions and banks we set up will enable us to do the work that needs to be done with weatherization. Then people can be put to work as contractors, installers, and energy auditors. We want all of our homes weatherized over a twenty-year period. These are jobs needed now and over a long period of time.”
*Thousands of jobs could materialize to create the underground energy corridor alongside I-95, working with Bangor Hydro in Maine and Irving Oil.
“We will need people in the trades; engineers, electricians, and welders, to work on the corridor. Training has started in wood-composite fabrication to work on the pipeline. There are a lot of job opportunities here in the trades for a long period of time.
“After a public review, we want to get things going. The study has been going on for over a year. We’ve seen several designs. Irving Oil has opened itself up to work with us for what’s best for the state.”
Do you envisage other alternative-energy companies coming to Maine to utilize this corridor?
“You have an opportunity, much like the Interstate, to create economic development. Our rivers gave us cheap, affordable electricity with hydropower, and mills established themselves on those riverbanks. We will have an opportunity around this corridor to do the same sort of thing — to plug into that renewable, more affordable electricity.”
The governor said another potential corridor could be using the right-of-ways along train lines that exist from Searsport west.
“East-west through Maine is another possible corridor, alongside the railroad lines. We have a real advantage to utilize state resources, because of our location and because of our natural resources.
Governor John Baldacci in his State House office. Photo by Ramona du Houx
“An existing proposal, Bangor Hydro’s Northeast Energy Link, which would run from Orrington to Boston, should speed up now. It would move eleven hundred megawatts of clean, renewable electricity through the national grid. We would get lease payments there as well.
“Maine could become branded as the renewable resource engine of New England. We are witnessing a green energy revolution in Maine.”
You’re transitioning the former Brunswick Naval Air Station into an education hub with a focus on green technologies of the future. UMaine and SMCC will be working at BNAS to train engineers who may be building windmill components as well as using composite technologies in other areas. You’re ramping up education at all levels, in your State of the State address, giving people from all backgrounds ways forward in this emerging economy. Will this be enough to train the workers of today for the global, green economy?
“To start with there’s a lot of work out there in weatherization. Once we pass the weatherization imitative you’re going to have the resources immediately from what we’ve done with the banks and credit unions — back stopping the loans, freeing up $100 million in capital. Plus $32 million for low-income weatherization. That will give us the ability to do weatherization for low, medium, and upper income citizens.
“Early on we started training people in classrooms of 30 to 40 to become energy auditors, installers, and certified contractors. Now, working with Dale McCormick, the director of Maine State Housing, we are streaming that class through the universities on their ITV network to students. We’ve taken that program from 30 to 40 students to three to four hundred students, creating an army of energy workers and businesses to hit the ground running.
“I’m impressed with the forward thinking of Maine companies and individuals. Many businesses are already training people. The Associated General Contractors is providing training for the composites sector. We’re already getting the next wave of workers trained. Now we’re looking at what resources will be available to train the 2nd and 3rd wave of workers.
How will you make sure people know about job opportunities?
“Laura Fortman of the Department of Labor is working with the Public Utilities Commission, Maine State Housing, and the Department of Transportation, so that we can provide the human resources necessary in all the fields that the recovery funds hit, and state funds hit, so we can maximize potential and put people back to work. We’re matching up skill sets through CareerCenters, so we can get people aligned with the jobs available.”
Do you think President Obama could use the Weatherization Corps as a model for the nation?
“Franklin Delano Roosevelt started a conservation corps employing 250,000 youths to plant trees, giving them jobs during the Depression. I thought that we needed to do something to include our youth in this new economy. With recovery funds we can start a youth program. The Jobs for Maine Graduates program, the Department of Labor, and the Department of Education are working together to take about 100 youths and put them to work around the areas of energy, weatherization, and efficiency.
“Over the summer, fall, and spring, they will be given the opportunity to work, doing good things for others who need the assistance, while earning money for college. It’s a wonderful opportunity to get youth involved in their community and this new economy.
The nation is in an energy crisis, and you are leading the way out of it in Maine. This is a path Maine was on before President Obama was elected. When did you start working on energy initiatives?
“Firstly, you have progressiveness about you as a Democratic governor. Democrats can balance budgets and make critical investments. That’s what we’ve shown. We’ve recently put in the first budget that’s actually been less than its predecessor. The last time that happened was in 1974.
“We’ve made administrative reductions, increasing efficiencies in state government. Each department had their own human resource budget people; we eliminated those positions and created a service center and put it all under the Department of Administration and Financial Services. We reduced the school administrative units, not closing schools but reducing the number of superintendents and administration, and put more money in the classroom. We took 16 correctional systems and put them as one, improving services for women, the mentally ill, and others — at the same time saving money for taxpayers. We can do and have done both. We need to continue to do that, because these are tough times, and we have to stretch dollars like everybody else. But we also need to make critical investments.
“When it came to the energy area, I thought the state could become a best practices laboratory for businesses and individuals. So I established the Office of Energy Independence and Security; at that time oil was around ten dollars a barrel. I wanted to prove the theory that if you reduced the environmental impact, it would not hurt the economic bottom line.
“With Beth Negusky, Karen Tilburg, Jane Lincoln, and others, we developed a policy for the Blaine House and all of state government to purchase electrical power that was from renewable resources. We reduced our greenhouse gas emissions by eight percent the first year, back in 2003. We took the state workforce and advantaged them on pretax dollars, so they could have the advantages of car and vanpooling. We started the GoMaine van campaign. We changed the fleet to hybrid vehicles.
“When gas spiked and the press came in, they assumed we would have to appropriate more money in the budget. But we didn’t. The reality was, because of the steps that we had taken, we had actually stretched dollars, so we didn’t have to make an additional appropriation to the budget.
“We’ve shown that you can reduce the impact of pollution and become more energy efficient; it doesn’t hurt your economy, and it helps taxpayers. On a state basis, we proved it’s possible; now the president is trying to prove it on a national basis.
“People may not be as sensitive about gas at $2 instead of $4 a gallon, but the price will go right back up as the economy improves. The state was better prepared when it happened last time; now I want people to be prepared. We collectively need to change. The people of Maine won’t have to do it on their own; we are helping them weatherize and become more energy efficient.
“At the same time, we are also trying to increase the amount of rail for passenger and freight. We’re trying to integrate our transportation systems and realize the opportunities of cargo ports, taking into account the environment. Our transportation system needs to be more efficient and environmental for people and businesses, so it doesn’t cost so much to get goods to market.”
Day one of your administration you worked with mills to save them — which is unusual for a governor. Now there are different, greener avenues for them to transition into. Why have you been so involved?
“Traditionally governors have helped out with unemployment benefits, training and education. But I know those jobs in Millinocket and East Millinocket; I know those people. You can’t be unsympathetic.
“I didn’t know much about the mechanics of making paper, so I asked myself, what can I do as governor? We found that if the governor doesn’t do anything, nobody can. And if the governor does and we all work together, it can work out. The first day in office, we were looking at 1,000 people being laid off; I remember it was a cold January morning. We met with the companies and officials, and I realized how hard it was for them to make ends met. A good business plan, experienced businesspeople to oversee it, and the financing necessary gave them the opportunity to bring people back to work. Through that experience, we got the Millinocket and East Millinocket going.”
Many of the same mills the you saved when you first came to office now have had to lay off workers first due to the increase in oil and then due to the decline of global paper sales. Again, you got involved. How are they doing?
“East Millinocket has brought back 140 workers from the recession’s plant closing. And we are working with them to start up the Millinocket mill with a brand-new paper machine. They’ve become sustainable, not using oil anymore to run the place. Transferring off of oil saves companies thousands of dollars. I think there will be opportunities for them to come back to work as well, which will be terrific.”
Diversifying mills with new technologies can help mills survive; are they looking at those avenues?
“Becoming a biorefinery, producing cellulosic ethanol, and the work at UMaine in research of alternative energies could transpose to other facilities. Maine is the second largest paper producer in the country, but many paper companies realize that they need to boost incomes in other areas. Energy is natural to them, with water and wood products, and they could really do well in this new energy future.
“On my first day in office, we started with a bankruptcy and tough times, and we are in tough times today. Hopefully people will look at these hard times and they will be able to see how we got through it. People remember more about the tough times than about the easier times. As my mother always said to me, ‘tough times build character.’ We’re in a better position, now that our location and resources are recognized for an energy hub. I think there is a very, very bright future for Maine.”
Working with President Obama on issues including energy?
“The president has provided money in the Recovery Act for the smart grid, the transmission, renewable energy, green energy, and weatherization. He’s committed to doing it.
“Our shared concern is: What if people take their eye off it when gasoline is at $2 a gallon? I think people are smarter than that. My money is on Maine people and our country, and I think that with President Obama and his leadership and what we are able to do in Maine together, we will be able to see the sun rise on the United States of America.”