AUGUSTA (AP) – Fall is fast approaching and the season that follows won’t be far behind, so Mainers are facing the financial facts of life about heating fuel.

Gov. John Baldacci brought the issue to the fore this week with several media-oriented events, but skipped over the failure of a past project launched with similar fanfare.

On Wednesday, Baldacci helped detail a $7 million Home Energy Loan Program that is designed to provide loans of up to $15,000 at an interest rate as low as 1 percent to homeowners with incomes of up to 115 percent of the area median income. On Thursday, he delivered what was billed as the first heating assistance payment of the 2006-07 heating season to Giroux Oil Service Company, Inc., of Portland.

As part of those Baldacci presentations, the governor’s office noted other energy-related initiatives, including the 2004 establishment of Operation Keep ME Warm, an energy conservation program to install energy efficiency materials in homes. The governor also touted the creation of a Keep Maine Warm Charitable Fuel Fund to raise relief funds for the needy.

Not much to boast about on that last one.

Baldaccie unveiled the charitable fuel fund on Oct. 21, 2005. He said former Govs. Angus King, John McKernan and Joseph Brennan would have leadership roles in the effort. He set an ambitious fundraising goal of at least $10 million – $5 million in charitable donations and $5 million in state funds.

The state funds came through as promptly as possible. On Jan. 4 of this year, Maine lawmakers opened their 2006 session with the unusually speedy passage of a bill authorizing the immediate infusion of more money into the heating assistance program for low-income Mainers.

The charitable fuel fund drive, however, which the Baldacci administration said featured a radio spot by the former governors, was unsuccessful.

According to information provided by the Baldacci administration, donations through March 31, 2006, amounted to $104,645.70, not including a $250,000 restricted gift.

So, even counting a restricted gift, which the administration appeared to say last year was targeted toward eastern Maine, overall fundraising through the heart of last winter’s heating season fell short of the $5 million goal by more than $4.6 million, according to the figures provided by the Baldacci administration.

Running the drive “ad hoc out of the governor’s office,” Baldacci senior policy adviser Richard Davies said Friday, “we learned a lot.”

Davies said timing, as well as the lack of a professional fundraiser, probably worked against the effort to attract corporate donors. More responsibility has since been turned over to nonprofit agencies, he said.

Beth Nagusky, the Baldacci administration’s director of energy independence and security, acknowledged the shortcomings of the fundraising drive but said that had been offset by a state heating oil deal with Venezuela, which she said was worth $5.6 million.

On Friday, Baldacci announced the receipt of a $500,000 federal Department of Energy grant to expand residential energy efficiency assistance for Maine homeowners.

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