A point for lawmakers to remember while compiling energy legislation for Maine is that wonderful incentives, reforms, policies and procedures are futile, if too little is invested into a work force to make it possible.
No single initiative has the same potential for job creation as energy. President Barack Obama surfed into office on a crest of “green-collar” fervor; this inertia has continued through the federal stimulus that has washed over the states.
Maine has assembled its best and brightest to ride this energy wave; the Legislature’s special Joint Select Committee on Maine’s Energy Future is tasked with taking proposals for reforming the state’s energy landscape and creating one, cohesive bill from them.
It’s a tall task, with many interests all pulling for their direction. Assembling legislation on the committee-level in Augusta may remove individual egos, but doesn’t insulate the architects from the varied forces pushing and prodding for an outcome.
We know what we need: a greater diversity of energy supplies, in-state generation capacity and stronger ability to transmit power across the state. We know we need efficiency, both through simple weatherization programs and more potent efforts to tighten Maine’s elderly, drafty housing stock.
We also we know need government reform. Maine’s bureaucratic approach to energy is a hodge-podge of many agencies and responsibilities. A single entity is needed to channel all this frenetic government action on energy into one smooth operating form.
And we know we need jobs. Energy policy is only as powerful as the means to implement it; Maine cannot risk drafting elegant architecture for the future of energy, without having someone to build it.
So it should not be left to chance. Whatever Maine lawmakers decide on energy should include proposals to develop a work force to see it through. Fresh programs for technical training and re-training, new higher education curricula within the state’s universities and community colleges, and forging industry partnerships are some vehicles for it.
In some ways, this is the easiest task for lawmakers, because its necessity is obvious. Yet, in other ways, it is hardest, because while government is good at putting people’s money to work, it’s not always effective putting people to work.
Yet because it’s difficult to do, or hard to measure, doesn’t mean it should become a low priority. We’re going to hear many energy ideas while lawmakers create this bill — residential and industrial energy conservation programs, low-interest loans, grants, rebates and, yes, new taxes and fees to pay for it.
In these discussions, however, lawmakers shouldn’t lose sight of one question: what should we do to make these good ideas happen? How they answer should ensure many Mainers can find, or get back to, work.
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