As we flip on the air conditioners or leave on that summer road trip, consider our power predicament.

Coal once produced a larger part of Maine’s power, but the big plants were gradually phased out as dirty and inefficient.

Nuclear power met about 20 percent of Maine’s electric demand between 1972 and 1996. That’s when Maine Yankee became too costly to operate safely. 

Gasoline and diesel are the principal fuels for getting us around. While more energy efficient vehicles have cut consumption, petroleum products still cause significant air pollution.

As the recent accident in Lac-Megantic, Quebec, shows, just transporting petroleum products can be dangerous.

Many of us use fuel oil to heat our homes. Efficiency has improved, but it’s still a dirty fuel.

Hydroelectric power is a significant source of Maine’s electricity, but dams close off Maine rivers to native fish populations and create other problems.

Biomass, using wood as fuel, is a large source of Maine’s power. It is much cleaner than other sources and it is considered renewable, but the boilers still produce ash, volatile organic compounds, nitrogen and hydrocarbons. Not perfect.

Natural gas is becoming a bigger part of Maine’s energy portfolio and it is relatively clean, but it increasingly involves the questionable process of chemical rock fracturing.

Wind, meanwhile, produces no pollution, yet political support is dwindling in the face of public opposition to siting turbines within the sight of, well, anyone.

Solar power, meanwhile, is non-polluting, yet the cost-benefit ratio hasn’t attracted major electric producers.

The point here is simple — while fuels may be better or worse, there is no perfect way to keep the lights burning, our homes heated and our cars running.

And that’s what makes a novel project on the Boothbay peninsula so interesting.

Known as the Boothbay Pilot Project, it is being funded by the Maine Public Utilities Commission, according to a recent story in the Portland Press Herald.

The goal is to cut costs, but more importantly to obviate the need for a new transmission line to replace one that is nearing its maximum capacity. That line would cost Central Maine Power customers $18 million.

The program has been busy replacing incandescent bulbs with more efficient LEDs and it has installed dozens of solar-electric panels, according to the Press Herald.

Plans include batteries that store solar electricity during the day and units that switch power use to evenings when demand is lower.

The challenging project is not off to a fast start. The goal for the first year was to install 2,000 kilowatts of “non-transmission alternatives.” That’s equal to the power it would take to run 500 homes.

Less than half of that, 860 kilowatts, were installed, but even that is enough to cut the peninsula’s peak load by 8 percent.

A CMP spokesman was unenthusiastic about the peninsula experiment, which might be expected of a company that makes money distributing power, not conserving it.

Gov. Paul LePage, meanwhile, is a vocal opponent of state-funded conservation programs. In the recent legislative session, he tried to eliminate funding for the organization leading conservation efforts, Efficiency Maine.

Fortunately, his veto of a landmark energy bill was overridden by legislative Republicans and Democrats.

The governor is living in the past on this issue, not the future.

In the long run, Maine’s priorities should be cutting energy costs, and the quickest, cheapest way to do so is by using technology to reduce consumption.

The Boothbay peninsula experiment may not reach its goal, but the lessons learned will build a foundation for even larger projects.

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The opinions expressed in this column reflect the views of the ownership and the editorial board.


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