By Stanley Short Jr., Special to the BDN
Bangor Daily News op-ed
The working men and working women of Maine inspire me every day. Our communities and our state are built on their ingenuity, determination and grit. Now there’s an opportunity for them to drive economic development through the production of Maine-made energy.
It comes to us in the form of a historic solar bill with enormous job potential. We are talking about keeping Mainers at work in good-paying jobs now and creating opportunity that allows young Mainers to pursue their livelihoods in state.
I’ve dedicated my career to the well-being of working people. It was my focus for more than 25 years in organized labor, including 18 as a mill worker at S.D. Warren in Skowhegan. It is my focus now as the state representative for Clinton, Detroit and Pittsfield.
Simply put, we need jobs in my district. I bet that’s true for most any other lawmaker you ask in the Maine House of Representatives. That’s why they ought to support LD 1649, An Act To Modernize Maine’s Solar Power Policy and Encourage Economic Development — especially if Gov. Paul LePage vetoes it as expected.
This is a great bill crafted by lawmakers from both sides of the aisle and stakeholders including Maine solar businesses, municipal officials, utility companies and Maine’s public advocate, whose purpose is representing the interests of all utility consumers.
It would finally create a comprehensive solar policy for Maine. We’re the only state in New England without one, and we’re last in New England for solar job creation and solar development. It’s time we turn that around.
LD 1649 does that through measures that will allow Maine to increase solar installation by a factor of 10 over four years. Solar panels are getting more and more affordable, but our current policies are preventing Maine from taking advantage of that trend.
The bill makes it easier for Mainers to get together and form community projects, so even if you are a renter or if your house is in deep shade, you can directly benefit from solar power. It also helps businesses, municipalities and the agriculture and forestry sectors take advantage of solar. This legislation does that while reducing electricity costs for nonsolar consumers.
It’s estimated that this new activity will create 650 new jobs for Maine. The legislation also protects 300 existing jobs. They are at risk because the state’s outdated billing and credit system for solar customers will expire soon and chaos could result if this is not addressed. The bill includes a new system that not only creates stability but improves upon the current model.
Here in Somerset County, we aren’t in a position to let good-paying jobs just pass us by. During my two terms in the Legislature alone, we’ve seen layoffs at Huhtamaki in Fairfield, the announced shutdown of Madison Paper Industries and the closure of the UTC Fire & Security plant in my hometown of Pittsfield. That’s hundreds of lost jobs right there.
But there’s a bright spot right here in Pittsfield, too. It’s a growing energy company called Insource Renewables started by Vaughan Woodruff. He grew up in town, got his college degree and moved away before coming back home to build his business. This is a local business in the growing clean-energy sector that employs Mainers in good jobs and keeps dollars in our state’s economy.
I want to keep hearing about Insource Renewables’ success because Woodruff’s successes are Pittsfield’s as well. I want to see more stories like this in Somerset County and all around Maine.
If that’s going to happen, we in the State House need to stand strong against a veto. We need to embrace this opportunity to move Maine forward. That’s why I will be urging my legislative colleagues to override the governor’s anticipated veto. I hope you will do the same. We owe it to the working people of Maine.
Rep. Stanley Short Jr., D-Pittsfield, is a second-term member of the Maine House of Representatives. He represents Clinton, Detroit and Pittsfield.