By Colin Hickey, Staff Writer
WATERVILLE — Maine Public Utilities Commission Chairman Kurt Adams had a grandfather who was fanatical about not using a single kilowatt hour more of electric power than he needed.
In his grandfather’s household, Adams told those attending a business breakfast on Thursday at Thomas College, grandchildren pulled plugs from electric outlets to help his cause.
Such energy conservation, he argued, is the most effective way Mainers can control their energy costs — at least in the short run.
But he added that working toward creating a more diverse portfolio of energy generators is extremely important as well, especially if ensuring a stable energy supply is a goal.
The significance of electrical power, he said, cannot be overstated.
“It is also in my view the single most important energy source Maine people use,” he said.
Adams led off the 10 Business Breakfast Series speeches that Mid-Maine Chamber of Commerce and Thomas College have arranged for this year.
Held in the Student Center at the college, the series focuses on key issues in the Maine business world.
Residential customers of Central Maine Power Co. currently pay 8.34 cents per kilowatt hour for electricity. Five years ago, the rate was less than half that.
The increase, Adams said, has much to do with Maine’s reliance on natural gas to generate energy, as well as the lack of energy conservation.
Natural gas, he said, became the darling of New England utilities — or ISO New England — in part because it is a clean-burning fuel. In addition, a natural gas power plant doesn’t require much manpower and can be located anywhere, he said.
“We built so many of them that we became quite dependent on them,” Adams said.
In fact, he said, in the last 10 years, New England has boosted its electrical output by 12,000 megawatts, with all but 1,000 of those megawatts fueled by natural gas.
The trouble with that, he said, is natural gas is a fragile energy source largely because the supply can be disrupted so easily, especially when natural disasters occur.
“We are always one hurricane away from 13 cents a kilowatt hour (for electrical power),” Adams said.
Adams argues that wind, tidal, clean coal, solar and hydroelectric power can, and should, be part of the energy equation if the goal is to keep costs down and supply stable.
In a question and answer session following his speech, Adams agreed with a person who bemoaned the fact that some seem to think wind power alone will solve Maine’s energy concerns.
Adams said no single source is the answer. But he added that the public debate about wind power has been good in raising awareness of the need for alternative power sources in general.
In the short term, however, Adams stressed that much can be done by taking simple conservation steps. He touted Maine PUC’s Efficiency Maine program, singling out the compact fluorescent lights program, which offers discounts on purchasing those lights, as a prime example.
The compact fluorescent bulbs, which use 60 percent less energy than traditional bulbs, have been embraced by many Maine consumers, saving a significant amount of energy in the process, he said.
Adams applauds that enthusiasm for conservation.
His grandfather surely would have as well.