AUGUSTA – On the day before Earth Day, Gov. John Baldacci plugged solar power by plugging in a solar panel that will power his office.

Continuing a tradition begun by former U.S. Sen. Edmund Muskie, D-Maine, Maine will push solar energy to forward its thrifty and environmental ways, Baldacci said.

With the cameras clicking, the governor flipped the switch of a new solar panel that sits on asphalt-covered ground between the State House and the State Office Building.

“This is actually going to power the lights in my office,” Baldacci said.

Governor’s goal

It’s his goal to have 50,000 Maine homes use solar in the next 10 years to help power their homes. One panel can meet 10 percent of a typical home’s electricity, said Naoto Inoue, of Blue Link Solar Network of Arundel presented the donated solar panel to Baldacci.

Baldacci and Rep. John Brautigam, D-Falmouth, are sponsoring legislation that would give tax credits and rebates to those who buy solar panels, which could bring the price of one panel from $4,650 to $3,200.

Wearing sunglasses, Brautigam said he normally does not put on sunglasses at press conferences, “but today I’ll make an exception because the future of solar power is so bright. As you can see there’s abundant sunshine coming down all around us. It’s delivered free to our door with no environmental costs, no environmental impact.”

Observing today’s Earth Day, Baldacci paid homage to Rumford-born Muskie, who in Congress developed legislation that mandated clean water and clean air around the country.

The message of Earth Day is more compelling this year, Baldacci said, with soaring gas and oil costs that are hurting Maine residents. But the high prices also present opportunities to turn to cleaner, alternative energy, he said.

Since being elected, Baldacci established the Office of Energy Independence and Security, promoted energy initiatives such as biodiesel and weatherization, doubled the number of hybrid vehicles the state owns, and reduced state travel.

Renewable power

The state buys 40 percent of its electricity from renewable power that produces no greenhouse emissions, and has signed an order incorporating efficient building standards for all new and renovated state buildings.

“We’re trying to recognize that being kind to the environment actually is kind to budgets and economies, and enables us to stretch resources further,” he said.

The bill to provide rebates and tax incentives for solar panels is part of that goal, Baldacci said. Developing wind and solar energy would also develop new companies and new Maine jobs, Baldacci said.

Inoue said the solar panel was donated by residents who want the state to encourage solar energy. The Maine Citizens Supporting the Use of Solar Power said the State House solar panel will remind people that Maine needs to move away from electricity made by nuclear and coal plants. The residents urged Baldacci to challenge other governors to install solar panels at their statehouses.

“We accept the challenge,” Baldacci said.

Nationally, solar energy makes up .001 percent of the electrical grid, and environmentalists want solar to make up 10 percent by 2030, Inoue said. If that goal were met, “we could shut down 300 large coal plants,” Inoue said. Coal plants make 51 percent of the nation’s electricity, he said, “which has huge environmental impacts like mercury and acid rain.”

Baldacci agreed, saying Maine’s higher asthma cases stem from coal plant pollution from other states carried by the jet stream to Maine. Using alternative energy will help “our health care, our economy and our environment.”

The solar energy legislation has not yet been scheduled for a public hearing, Brautigam said.

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