The Heat is on Natural Gas.
Explosions, leaks, and accidents are tarnishing the reputation of Maine's newest heating source.
Perhaps it's appropriate, as winter approaches and frost sweeps across much of Maine, that so much of the news lately seems to revolve around energy issues.
The expansion of natural gas service in Maine's largest urban areas has given residents a new option in the winter heat market, but the improvements haven't come without a few hitches recently. The Maine Public Utilities Commission has ordered an investigation after a natural gas leak demolished an unoccupied home in South Portland. Other recent leaks have caused two fires and mass evacuations in several southern Maine towns. Up in Bangor construction workers at the site of the new racino on Main Street twice drilled into natural gas pipelines and forced street closures. Both Bangor Gas Company and Northern Utilities say they are planning new educational campaigns aimed at helping construction workers and homeowners identify and avoid active gas lines. Good idea there, guys. So far no one has been injured or killed. Let's keep it that way.
Meanwhile, the federal Energy Information Administration is predicting that heating oil customers will pay an average of $319, or 22 percent, more this winter than last as a result of soaring crude oil prices, which moved past eighty-three dollars a barrel Friday on warnings about low oil inventories. Natural gas customers will pay $78, or 10 percent, more for heat between October and March.
Mainers are celebrating a landmark legal settlement against Ohio-based American Electric Power, the company that owns many of the coal-burning power plants in the Midwest that send acid-rain-causing pollution across the Pine Tree State. AEP will pay a $15 million fine, $60 million in cleanup and mitigation cost, and $5.1 billion in plant improvements aimed at reducing chemical emissions that cause acid rain by at least 69 percent. The new equipment will also reduce particulate and mercury pollution. (Stand on any mountaintop on a clear day and look for the brown haze ringing the horizon.) "These air pollution reductions are good news for everyone who breathes," said Judy Berk, spokeswoman for the Natural Resources Council of Maine.
We've waited a long time for this sort of move. Who knows - the day may come when we can eat the fish from our lakes and streams again without worrying about the mercury content.
Another issue generating a lot of heat lately is Governor John Baldacci's plan to take over Maine's county jails and fold them into the state prison system. Baldacci claims the move will save $10 million, but to date he hasn't let anyone see the financial figures that would justify that number. Instead, county officials say, he seems to be taking a position that "it is because I say so." Now, the Bangor Daily News is reporting, "The Maine County Commissioners' Association and the Maine Sheriff's Association have hired a consulting team to review and attempt to substantiate or debunk the governor's plan." They are also proposing an alternative plan for legislators to consider come January.
Unless some sort of breakthrough happens soon, this will turn into a major battle between counties and the governor, one that could tie up a legislature that already faces major decisions on budget shortfalls, health-care funding, and tax reform.
- By: Jeff Clark