FARMINGTON — The state of Maine needs to move away from its dependence on oil use as fast as it can, Les Otten told a gathering Wednesday.
The gubernatorial candidate spoke at a Franklin County Chamber of Commerce business breakfast, advocating for an educated approach to alternative sustainable energy sources.
"Let's be smart about this before it is a crisis. We're going to run out of oil. We probably won't buy oil and gas at $2.50 a gallon two years from now," he said.
Following his work in the ski industry and part ownership of the Boston Red Sox, Otten invested in a wood pellet venture, Maine Energy Systems, and in 2008 was asked by Gov. John Baldacci to chair the Governor's Wood-to-Energy Task Force. The panel's task included finding ways to reduce the state's reliance on foreign oil and promote the economy through development of renewable sources of energy made in Maine.
Otten's Maine Energy Systems offers fully automated wood pellet-fired home boiler systems.
In Maine, 80 percent of homes are heated with oil, residents have long commutes to work and many drive four-wheel-drive vehicles making the state one of the biggest users of foreign oil per person, he said.
As oil is a depleting resource, Otten urged attendees to look at Europe and learn from its increased use of solar, wind, geothermal and biomass thermal energy sources.
If 10 percent of Mainers moved to a pellet boiler system, it would create 7,000 jobs that aren't here now, he said.
"Let's use education and work to change the circumstances we're in," he said, suggesting Maine could become a leader as a green state that's energy independent while using Maine's abundant forest industry as one alternate energy source.
Success, according to Otten, also includes education and a strong work ethic — they go hand-in-hand, he said while relating his own life experience.
His father, a German steel mill owner, refused Hitler's request to produce shell casings. He was arrested and then fled to come here and start over. His mother's family came through Ellis Island in the early 1900s. A self-made couple without the benefits of a college education, they decided, when Otten was born, that he needed to go to college and to work. He started his career as a paperboy earning $3 a week, he said.
American children now spend less days and less hours in school than children in other countries.
"We're the only country with a 12-week summer break. It's no wonder we're losing in the world stage. It's not a way to build the country," he said, challenging people to continue their own learning especially about energy conservation, efficiencies and alternative sources.
Otten also touted the need for a unified direction for the state and creation of a tax credit for investments in alternative energy sources for homes. Present efforts focus on weatherization where thousands are spent to save a few hundred in fuel costs, he said.