Maine has a manufacturing economy for the 21st century that will create a product nobody can see, but everybody needs.

What is this magic product? Energy.

This state has tremendous potential to create energy, through peak and offshore winds, waves and waters, sun and skies, and trees. If developed to its fullest output, the state could create more energy than it can use — by a sizable margin.

As detailed in Sunday’s Sun Journal, there’s no shortage of creative energy being spent in Maine on developing new energy sources. The infrastructure is here: there’s enough dormant tidal power sloshing around to equal the output of Maine Yankee.

The bottom line is Maine, as a potential net exporter of energy, is positioned to develop a manufacturing economy based on providing power, or raw materials to generate it. It’s not a radical conclusion; this state has produced more power than it uses.

And popular and political enthusiasm for new energy sources has long been apparent. New energy means jobs and investment. Its obstacles have been provincial and bureaucratic — i.e. NIMBYism and red tape. Oh, and a failure to accept the not-so-nice side of manufacturing: Moving the product to market.

Unless shipped by hang glider, even the greenest of green products stomps a carbon footprint to get to market. Trains. Planes. Automobiles. Energy is no different. It may not need petroleum to move, but it does need efficient, available transportation.

That’s transmission, the spindly, towering eyesores with bad reputations for ill effects on health and property values. The problem for Maine is that if it wants this new energy economy, and all the good that goes with it, the deal is packaged with significant expansions in transmission.

Lawmakers this year put brakes on the governor’s plans for an energy corridor with New Brunswick, one of the aforementioned new opportunities in the energy economy. The stated reasoning was extra study, but a great deal of politicking and lobbying and opinion swaying went into it as well.

One fact seems incontrovertible, though: Maine will never capitalize on its full potential for creating energy if it fails to develop and expand its transmission capacity on a parallel track. The product must be delivered to market. If we just make it here and keep it here, it won’t be worth as much. There’s more to gain by exporting, than hoarding.

On Monday, Gov. John Baldacci announced his Energy Infrastructure Commission, saying: “[We] know that to be successful, we need to appropriately develop transmission infrastructure. Our state has great opportunity, but results are not guaranteed.”

This is true. This commission, comprised of many legislators, is technically tasked with looking at how energy corridors should be developed on state property. It’s real task, however, might be convincing their peers that manufacturing energy is not just creating it, but also doing whatever necessary to move it wherever it needs to go.

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