April 08, 2020

Energy costs should be No. 1 priority

In about three weeks, millions of U.S. voters will go to the polls to elect congressmen, governors and state legislators.

Listening to the national electronic media, one would think that the most important issue facing Americans is former Florida Rep. Mark Foley’s e-mails to congressional pages, what ensued, who knew about it and when.

Obviously this issue has some merit, but doesn’t it pale in comparison to the high energy costs of the past year and what they threaten to do to families and businesses?

Granted the prices have fallen in recent weeks, but everyone knows they will get higher again come the cold of winter and certainly will remain a long-term worry.

Lewis Black, a comedian of HBO and Jon Stewart Daily Show fame, makes a living pointing out the ironies of U.S. life. He recently wondered why we continue to build huge new homes that will burn huge amounts of energy to heat and live in, yet don’t automatically install solar panels that would pick up a big part of that load. Good question. In fact, there is a growing school of thought that people such as Black and Stewart highlight real issues better than the conventional networks.

One such real issue is the cost of vehicles and the money it costs to fuel them.

U.S. automakers are losing huge amounts of money and still not providing the efficient vehicles we need. Why? The automakers help dictate the Republican agenda, and the auto unions have a strong influence with the Democrats. And neither the companies nor the workers wants a whole lot of change, which could include retooling the assembly lines and finally producing electric cars that could be both efficient and affordable. This change would create uncertainty for both the workers and the companies. And uncertainty is uncomfortable.

But such a massive change also would produce a huge multiplier impact on the economy and employ thousands of people making the huge assembly lines and perfecting the new technologies.

Likewise with solar energy. Many of the new more upscale homes in the Bangor area come with granite kitchen and bathroom countertops. For what those cost, solar panels that would save huge amounts of money could be installed.

To give the state government in Maine some credit, there are already tax credits in place for solar heating, but as a state, relatively few take advantage of it. And, like the auto industry, new solar businesses could employ hundreds of people if their products were in sufficient demand. No one would build a new house today without adequate insulation, so why shouldn’t providing some energy in the infrastructure of the house be just as important?

Part of the problem with energy costs is that the companies providing the energy tend to be huge and politically powerful. There is nothing inherently wrong with this largeness. But it poses a problem when change is needed because it keeps small companies trying to provide new technologies very much in a niche or boutique type of category. In other words, it costs a lot to compete with the big companies in terms of efficiency.

In Maine at this moment, it would seem fair to say that most people employing alternative energies are either relatively rich or leading somewhat alternate lifestyles, which is not to be interpreted negatively. It’s just that the technologies aren’t as mainstream as they should be.

Yet most of us will go to the polls in a few weeks, vote and not really think at all that the vote will have any impact on most of the issues that affect our daily lives.

That’s the way it really is. Just ask Lewis Black.

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