Portland Press Herald

Weeks before Egypt or Libya erupted, Brent Crude was over $100 a barrel. During the summer of ’08, before the extent of the economic downturn was known, most of the world’s economy was humming, and oil rose to $146 a barrel.

Oil is a finite resource. It’s becoming ever more expensive find, extract, and refine.

We use oil for just about everything.  Transportation, heat and electricity are obvious.  Did you know that the carpet under your feet, your computer, your yogurt cup and your water bottle were all created with oil?  They were, and once it’s gone, it’s gone forever.  Yet the world seems unwilling to substitute.

Those who produce oil understand supply and demand. They’re motivated to extract every last dime from oil that they can. OPEC does not care about how much you pay for gasoline. It cares about getting the highest price, because it knows that when the last barrel is filled the money stops flowing.

Before then, the majority of every oil dollar leaving Maine goes into other economies – in many cases, to nations that don’t like us.

Wind and solar power are high-visibility options that have gained favor in the media, among politicians and well-connected industries.  But both require billions in subsidies.  At best, their ability to heat your home is more than a decade away and at more than twice your current costs.

Wind and solar are also the two most expensive methods of energy generation we have.  For Maine, large-scale wind power is at least a decade away and is located 200 miles offshore.  The equipment necessary for its capture, generation and transmission has yet to be developed, let alone deployed. And wind depends on conventional energy sources for times when the wind doesn’t blow or blows too much.

Solar is no better on the wallet.  Even the most efficient solar equipment can’t make up for the fact that there’s not much energy in a square meter of sunlight. The technology is expensive, also heavily subsidized, and also needs conventional back up or expensive storage.  And let’s not forget that Maine is often cloudy with 16 hours of daily dark in winter.

Currently, Maine is 75% dependent on #2 heating oil. Wind and or solar energy simply aren’t available to replace oil to keep us warm any time in the near future.

We need a fuel that is lower in cost than oil, available now, renewable, efficient, and doesn’t require subsidies. Here’s great news: we have one.

We have trees – almost 18 million acres of them. Trees grow constantly here because of our climate and because we‘re great stewards of our forests.

This wood fuel doesn’tneed a technological breakthrough to be practical. That breakthrough already happened.  Maine companies make wood fuel for heat by refining trees into a very dense, dry, efficient, clean product called pellets. These pellets store energy for heat on demand.

Maine has four wood pellet factories and highly advanced central heating systems – manufactured in Maine – that are ready to be installed in homes, public buildings and businesses. These systems are as easy for the homeowner to use as an oil or gas boiler.

Pellet heat has been extremely successful in northern Europe for more than a decade, because wood pellets are cost effective, price stable, sustainable, carbon neutral and available now.

Currently, wood pellet energy costs 40% less than oil, 60% less than propane and 50% less than electricity.  By converting from oil to wood pellets, we’ll create thousands of new forestry, manufacturing, installation and maintenance jobs. Instead of sending money away, we’ll keep billions of dollars in our economy – dollars that can be used for higher wages and a better standard of living.

Maine’s forests are an incredible renewable resource. Mix earth, rain, sunlight and CO2, harvest carefully and nature will take care of the rest. Our forests can be a huge part of our heating future.

Use wood!  It’s the fuel we have been given –  and it’s a winner.