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September 14, 2018

Maine governor candidates square off on energy, economy in E2Tech forum

Photo / Renee Cordes
Photo / Renee Cordes
Maine governor candidates, from left, independent Alan Caron, Democrat Janet Mills and independent Terry Hayes. They debated energy and environmental issues on Thursday in Portland.

Three candidates in Maine's governor's race offered their visions for the state's energy future at a Portland debate, which Republican Shawn Moody didn't attend.

Thursday's 90-minute forum, organized by the Environmental & Energy Council of Maine, or E2Tech as it's better known, came three days after all four candidates had their first debate in Lewiston. They are running to succeed Gov. Paul LePage, a Republican, who has been in office since 2011.

Moody campaign manager Lauren LePage said in an email to Mainebiz that the candidate is participating in 11 debates and forums that includes multiple televised debates covering every part of Maine, without giving a reason for Thursday's absence.

"Shawn is committed to developing a comprehensive energy strategy for Maine that focuses on reducing electricity costs for Maine families and job creators, and embraces cost-effective renewable energy sources," she said.

Democrat Janet Mills, Maine's attorney general, and independent Alan Caron both said that they would support solar power, which Caron called the "disruptive technology of our time" and Mills pointed to as an industry that attracts young people to a state.

Mills said her top energy priorities would include establishing a cabinet-level energy commissioner, reducing costs for ratepayers and increasing capacity of solar power, which employs fewer than 600 people in Maine versus 14,000 in Massachusetts.

"We need to compete," she said, not just to reduce Maine's carbon footprint, but also to bring young people back to Maine.

Mills had similarly strong words about Maine lagging behind Massachusetts and New Jersey in attracting offshore wind power investment, saying she wants to be "the promoter in chief, the recruiter in chief, the closer in chief" when it comes to getting energy contracts in Maine. She's also keen on ramping up research and development spending, where she said Maine ranks 37th in the country.

More generally, Mills said that fewer issues are of greater importance than energy and the environment and underscored her affinity for solving problems and experience in both the private and public sectors.

"I like to say I know how to run a business, I know how to run a government," she said.

Without mentioning the incumbent by name, Caron said that Maine made a series of "colossal errors" in the last eight years, notably in "shutting down" solar and offshore wind opportunities.

Instead, Caron said he would like to see Maine become energy-independent in 30 years, and that investing in solar would save billions of dollars that could be reinvested elsewhere.

"This alone will transform the future of Maine for the next 100 years," he added.

He also said that all of Maine's problems, from an aging population to opioids, are rooted in the economy, in which not enough people are hopeful or can see a picture of the future.

"I've been working a long time to help people paint that future," he said.

Independent Terry Hayes, who opened by emphasizing that she doesn't play for either team but works for Maine as a whole, said she wouldn't have an energy policy in her first 100 days.

Instead, there would be a comprehensive economic development plan that would touch on energy, tax policy, "and other industry-specific pieces related to natural resources."

Hayes, Maine's first independent state treasurer, said the plan would look at a future time horizon of 15 to 25 years. But she emphasized that she is still learning, an "essential part of that real collaborative effort that will occur in the first year of my administration."

All three candidates on stage agreed on the need to fight climate change, with Hayes calling for a "collective effort" and Mills and Caron reinforcing their support of renewable energy.

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