Government task forces have the sex appeal of cinder blocks.

And as task forces go, Gov. John Baldacci’s creation to study ocean-based energy is the standard mashup of high-ranking bureaucrats, outside experts, wonks and some business interests.

They’ll meet for months and hash a detailed report that will be read, mostly, by high-ranking bureaucrats, outside experts, wonks and some business interests. (Talk about knowing your audience.)

But few endeavors are more important than what this task force will do. The energy-producing prospects of the Gulf of Maine – from wind, tidal and fossil fuels – is crucial to this state’s livelihood.

As prices for petroleum peaked, a division among states became clear: territories with strong natural resources, and the industries to harness them, enjoyed the spoils of surplus, while other states struggled.

Maine is blessed with resources, but industries to realize their potential remain nascent. Stimulating the alternative energies sector is an absolute necessity for future prosperity.

By creating an ocean-energy task force, the governor is taking a proactive approach to this need. The state is best served assuming a leadership role in utilizing the Gulf’s potential, rather than responding with middling results.

A good example of this is the previous task force on land-based wind energy, which convened after wind power had arrived, thrived, been denied and stretched the restrictions of Maine’s land-use regulations.

By standing still, the state was forced into being reactive. It’s wise not to do this again.

But wind and tides are not the only potential energy sources in the Gulf. By some accounts – though not those of the Minerals Management Service – the Gulf might hold commercially viable petroleum and natural gas deposits.

This industry has been a boon to the Canadian Maritimes, but prohibition of offshore exploration in the eastern United States has confined it there. Yet now, opposition to offshore exploration is waning in Congress.

Some surveys in the Gulf of its natural gas and oil deposits are more than 30 years old, and were done without the technology now commonplace. Its potential, at best, is unclear, so Gov. John Baldacci has made finding out what’s under the Gulf a priority. This is as important, in our mind, as harnessing power from the water, or the winds above.

Our lone concern about this whole effort is timing. The task force is not scheduled to release its findings until next November. This time frame could be too long.

Seizing Maine’s advantage in the burgeoning alternative energies market is a matter of timing. Other states have coastlines, water and wind, and some – like Rhode Island – are far ahead in the courting and developing of industries to harness them. A year-long review might be too plodding.

If opportunity knocks sooner, this state must be poised to act.


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