By Ramona du Houx
April 7th, 2009
Optimism and realistic hope for Maine’s future economic growth uplifted the 124th Legislature and many members of the public as they listened to Governor John E. Baldacci’s State of the State address on March 10, 2009.
Major initiatives in energy, healthcare, and education, which would establish Maine as an innovative state, grow jobs and the economy, were introduced. During some of his energy announcements, the governor received standing ovations from the Legislature.
“Our strengths are undeniable, and we will not be deterred. There is a path to take. We know what we must do,” began the governor.
That path has a firm foundation, which the Baldacci administration has been working on for the past six years. Now with a president aligned and receptive to innovative initiatives in a green economy, Maine is well positioned to move forward. Armed with federal stimulus funds, projects are already getting a jumpstart.
“We have already started putting that money to work, and combined with our existing highway plan for this spring, summer and fall, we will put 11,000 people on the job in our state just in the area of transportation. With a new federal wind at our back, we have an unmatched opportunity to transform our state.”
That transformation relies upon the governor’s $306 million dollar bond proposal working in tandem with the stimulus package; the result could produce 4,500 jobs over the next three years.
On education —
Working on a report. Photo by Ramona du Houx
Contained within the same investment proposal are bonds to improve Maine’s educational facilities, making them equipped to train workers in this new innovative economy. An education hub that offers degrees from the associate level to the graduate degree will be housed at the former Brunswick Navel Air Station, with a focus on engineering and high-tech skills needed in a green revolution. The governor also introduced a plan to expand the laptop program for 7th through 12th grade.
“We are going to revamp our laptop program and turn it into a powerful tool for the entire family,” announced the governor. “The Department of Education and the Department of Labor will work to make sure every one of those computers has software preloaded to connect Maine families with the services available at our state’s CareerCenters.”
The federal government has begun the process of line-by-line budget reform. In Maine that reform has been taking place since 2002, enabling Baldacci to illuminate a $1.2 billion shortfall and to replenish the Rainy Day Fund. Streamlining government on all levels saves taxpayers money, enhances services, and will give students a better education. To move forward, the governor strongly stressed stopping a referendum that turns back the clock on education reform.
“The way forward — the way to protect local schools and resources for the classroom — is to stop wasting money on unnecessary bureaucracies and administrations. We must continue to push for more effective and efficient government here in Augusta, in our counties, and at town and city halls across the state.
On healthcare —
The key, doctors agree, to good health is preventative care. America’s current health systems don’t invest in keeping people well; the governor proposed two initiatives aimed at preventative care:
“Our current system pays for sickness, not for keeping people well.
It doesn’t make any sense. That’s why I propose using $500,000 dollars of Recovery funds for a pilot project designed to change the way we deliver primary care.
We will test a system with 15 medical practices that allows teams of doctors, nurses, and other healthcare professionals to concentrate on keeping you well — not just waiting for you to get sick.”
“Tonight, I am announcing Maine’s Universal Wellness program. It will help every Mainer know, understand, and take action to reduce health risks and prevent disease. And it does it within existing resources.
Beginning in July, our statewide system of Healthy Maine Partnerships will offer free, confidential risk reviews and link people to local resources that can help them improve their health and prevent disease.
This is a long-term strategy that arms Mainers with the information they need to be healthier.”
In another new initiative to attract more doctors to practice in Maine, the governor proposes to use $3.5 million in Recovery funds to help launch two medical schools, one partnered with Maine Medical Center and one with Eastern Maine Medical Center.
“Research shows that doctors tend to settle near the hospitals where they complete their training. And I know that given the chance, young doctors will stay in Maine.”
Keeping to his promise, the governor, with state and federal matching dollars, will pay down the state’s debt of $370 million to hospitals. He also proposed helping unemployed workers continue to receive health insurance. The President’s Recovery Act only pays 65 percent for unemployed workers’ access to health insurance; the governor would like the state cover the rest. For those with no employer-based insurance, who lose their jobs, DirigoHealth with Harvard Pilgrim Insurance will be available.
Energy Initiatives —
The governor’s energy proposals are aimed at creating jobs, making Maine an energy exporter, while becoming energy independent and reducing greenhouse emissions. This green revolution will transform Maine’s economy for the 21st century.
“I will introduce the Maine Energy Independence Act, which will reinvent the way we manage our state energy programs and put all of our efforts under one roof, so they are more closely coordinated and integrated.
“We will set aggressive goals to weatherize every home in Maine and half of all of our businesses in the next 20 years. We know that we need to make energy upgrades as easy as possible. With this plan, there will be one place that individuals, families and businesses can go to get help with all of their energy efficiency needs …
“Tonight I am announcing a new collaboration between the State and Maine banks and credit unions that will simplify the way people accomplish home energy improvements.
“The program uses State loan guarantees to access up to $100 million dollars of private capital. It will help thaw our frozen credit market and make it possible for homeowners to invest in energy upgrades. In one simple process, you’ll be able to save money on your mortgage by refinancing, improve your home’s value, and cut utility bills. . .
“The Recovery Act includes $32 million dollars to weatherize homes for low-income families, and we’re adding access to another $100 million for middle-class families.
“We’ll multiply our current weatherization efforts by 20 times … The dividends for Maine are huge. We’ll send fewer energy dollars out of state, we’ll reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and we’ll create thousands of jobs for Maine workers.”
As the state transitions into this new green economy, more people will need training to fill the energy jobs of the immediate future. The governor outlined his Weatherization Corps program to train this new workforce:
“We will combine the efforts of the Department of Labor, Maine State Housing, the Public Utilities Commission, and our universities and community colleges to create a green-collar workforce that is second to none.
“This summer Maine will have its own Weatherization Corps of young workers who will learn important life and job skills right on the job.
“A joint program between the Department of Labor, Jobs for Maine Graduates, local CAP agencies, and Maine Housing will train about 100 students to work on energy related projects. These young people will have the opportunity to learn about energy efficiency and home weatherization, while working to make their state a better place to live. And they’ll do it while earning a paycheck. It’s a good program that will help young workers and help us meet our energy goals.”
The governor updated people on the growth of Maine-based renewable energy resources — wind, waves and wood:
“Already, we have reduced the regulatory barriers for the development of onshore wind power, and we have an Ocean Energy Task Force working right now to do the same thing for resources that exist off our coast. The group is developing legislation that will greatly advance renewable energy projects off the coast of Maine.
“And I propose $7.5 million dollars for a Maine Marine Wind Energy Fund that will support the development of the premier offshore testing site for wind energy for the country. This is a tremendous opportunity to become one of only three test sites in the country. Success will make Maine a hub for the manufacturing and research industries that will drive energy production for the next generation.”
Tidal power research is moving ahead as Ocean Renewable Power Company is field-testing tidal power turbines near Eastport. Last fall the governor’s Wood-to-Energy Task Force reported Maine’s forest reserves are sustainable, wood pellet manufactures have grown, and consumers are converting to wood pellet stoves.
Maine as an energy exporter —
The governor said that Maine’s location is an asset, as long as we build transmission lines necessary to deliver the energy. Three transmission proposals are possible avenues forward.
“Maine sits at the center of a growing energy hub, not only for us but for all of New England … Our location puts us in a position to become a renewable energy engine for our country. We can help deliver on the promise of a new energy future — one that reduces the impact on our climate and stabilizes and reduces the cost of electricity for Maine.
“As we transition our economy from oil and utilize more electricity for our energy needs, we must strengthen and improve our electrical grid. That means more reliable transmission and greater capacity to handle the new energy resources that are being developed.
“Consider the Maine Power Reliability Project, proposed by Central Maine Power. This upgrade of our existing grid has the potential to pump $1.5 billion dollars into our state’s economy and create more than 2,000 jobs over four years. . .
“Right now in Maine, we have transportation corridors that run the length of our state. We need to transform them into much more.
“Today I signed a Memorandum of Understanding with Bangor Hydro to explore the potential use of the right-of-way that exists along our interstates and roads for new, underground transmission lines. Instead of a transmission company negotiating with hundreds of individual landowners and communities, they can utilize rights-of-way that already exist. There’s less impact on the environment and less impact on people. . .
“Transportation corridors will become commerce corridors.
“The idea also has the potential to speed an exciting proposal currently under consideration; Bangor Hydro’s Northeast Energy Link, which would run from Orrington to Boston, has the potential to inject $2 billion dollars into Maine for the construction of a new transmission line that would move eleven hundred megawatts of clean, renewable electricity. . .
“We are also investigating the potential for a second energy corridor that would run between Maine and New Brunswick. Our shared objective with New Brunswick is to increase the long-term supply of secure, reliable, and clean energy to our region. The work will also include the accelerated development of renewable power and an improved grid in Maine.
“These commerce corridors would house appropriate projects, generating tens of millions of dollars each year in new revenue for the state.
“Those resources would be used to meet our weatherization and energy efficiency goals, to invest in top-quality energy research and other state priorities, including tax relief. And the corridors would make it quicker and easier for major projects to get started, putting people to work faster.
“A third possible transmission line is being discussed as part of the plans for pump storage in Wiscasset. Riverbank Power wants to spend about $1 billion dollars to construct an underground hydro generation facility in Wiscasset. The facility would then be connected to Boston by a proposed $1 billion dollar underwater transmission line.
“With just a small handful of projects, Maine has the potential to benefit from more than $5 billion dollars of direct, private-sector investment. And if we meet our stated goal of developing 3,000 megawatts of wind power, Maine will see an additional $7.5 billion dollars of energy investment.
“The massive size of the proposed investments — at least $12 billion dollars and growing — demonstrates Maine’s central position in the growth of renewable energy, and our great potential for energy self-sufficiency and to lower energy prices for Maine people and businesses. At stake are thousands of jobs, new economic development, and millions of dollars of potential revenues for the state that can support our priorities.”
The governor said natural gas should also play an important role in Maine’s energy portfolio, and he is committed to pursue the LNG proposed terminals in Washington County with Canadian government support.
In conclusion the governor said:
“Now in 2009, we have within reach the power to shape our own future, to write the next chapter in this great state’s story. When our grandchildren and their children look back, I want them to see in us a generation that answered the call, that transformed Maine.
“Our way forward is not just about energy. Or a cleaner environment, or even the jobs we’ll create today, although all those things are important. What I’m talking about is a new economy, one that’s built to succeed in a rapidly changing world. But it’s an economy that will rely upon those same Maine traits that have served us so well: honesty, integrity, quality, pride and workmanship. Maine Built is Best Built. There’s a new era of opportunity and prosperity on the horizon. We will get there together.”