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Energy and Jobs for all of Rural Maine

Paul Kando

A letter came. Pathetic, angry, full of venom and misinformation. Nary an original idea, but dated ones heard a thousand times and proven not to work: Defending the environment destroys jobs and is the enemy of hunters, timber harvesters, miners, hydropower, and economic development. Southern Maine prospers at the expense of the North and Downeast. Mainers with nice homes and businesses are against the unemployed, the haves are against the have-nots, the cities against the countryside. Absurdly, conserving the natural environment has even supposed to have caused the decline of US manufacturing. And national parks are “devoid of meaningful human activity”.

A different kind of farming
photo credit: Soalr Selections

What about hiking, climbing, resting, reading, studying, observing, enjoying the wild, all the while staying in local motels and feasting on local food? Manufacturing jobs lost to environmental care, rather than automation, globalization, outsourcing jobs to where labor is cheap, and misguided policies that cling to old ideas and dated industries while shunning the imaginative and the new? And how can the loss of jobs that never existed be blamed on other Mainers?

I don’t know what my letter writer might have been smoking. But I do know this: Energy and a healthy environment go hand in hand with a healthy economy. Northern and Downeast Maine have unique gifts in this regard, waiting to be made the most of. Not just land and natural beauty but huge untapped sources of energy, equal to or even greater than those in Southern Maine. The same amount of sunshine falls freely on every square meter of Northern and Downeast Maine – close to 1000 Watts – and there is plenty of wind to harness, on shore and off. More than Germany gets, much farther north of us.

Yet it is Germany that leads in both solar and wind. So what do Germans have on rural Mainers? (1) Fact and science-based comprehensive energy policies that support local energy self-reliance. (2) Ease of access, via a modern, well maintained infrastructure, while Northern and Downeast Maine are stuck at the end of derelict, rusting rails and poorly maintained 2-lane roads. (3) Realism in leadership: making the most of what exists locally, based on fact, not mythology.

Our North and Downeast have priceless energy resources – and potential jobs. Clean energy industries are relevant to all of Maine. They – mostly small, limber businesses – produce 15 decent-paying jobs per million dollars invested. In contrast, oil and gas production and distribution produce only 2. University studies forecast that Maine’s full conversion to renewable energy will create more than 17,000 construction jobs and almost 14,000 permanent operating jobs. Finally here is equal access to such jobs for all rural Mainers! All they need is 21st Century policies and, yes, public investments to level the playing field. This is a challenge, but not an impossible one. There are no technological barriers in the way.

All our Beautiful Maine needs is for the hapless, negative thinking like my letter writer’s to get out of the way.