08/13/2008 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Working Together to Find Local Energy Solutions

Last week, Exxon Mobil announced they made more money last quarter than any company in the history of the United States -- $11.7 billion in profit in twelve weeks. $90,000 every 60 seconds. As American families struggle to figure out how to pay for $4 a gallon gas and home heating oil and rising electricity rates, the profits of Big Oil "swell," as the New York Times put it.

As T. Boone Pickens has pointed out, our dependency on foreign oil sends $700 billion out of this country every year -- he calls it "the largest transfer of wealth in the history of mankind."

On the island of North Haven, Maine -- my home for the last thirty-five years, I'm proud to say we're doing something about it. My neighbors on North Haven and Vinalhaven voted last week 382 to 5 to pursue a plan to build two or three wind turbines to provide power for the islands. The two islands are part of a power co-op, owned by the consumers -- a rate-payer owned utility. We pay a lot for electricity and can see that rates are only going to go up further.

Rising electric rates are going to be an increasingly serious problem for Maine families and businesses -- just this week, for example, the PUC approved electric rate hikes of up to 32% for medium and large businesses in Maine. And this is not a problem unique to Maine, as we all know.

I think we've found a better solution on North Haven and Vinalhaven: Instead of paying increasing expensive electric bills every month, with the money going out of our community, out of state, and even out of the country, the wind turbines bring the promise of decades of steady rates with the money staying right here. In the winter, the turbines are expected to produce more power than we need, allowing us to sell the excess back to the grid.

Renewable energy has economic advantages that extend beyond steady, predictable electric rates -- and Maine is in a good position to capitalize on those opportunities. Maine construction companies are already creating jobs and making money installing wind turbines, and research at the University of Maine composite lab into more efficient blade design looks promising too.

Making the switch from foreign oil dependency to home grown sources of renewable energy is not without challenges, however -- and federal programs like the Production Tax Credit and a Renewable Portfolio Standard will be necessary to provide the stability and predictability the fledgling renewable power industry needs to become self-sustaining. Sadly, the president and some Republicans in Congress have repeatedly refused to enact these measures, choosing instead to funnel billions of dollars in subsidies to the big oil companies.

We face some big challenges in this country right now, but with those challenges come big opportunities -- if we make the right choices. And in a week in which the newspaper carried both the news of Exxon-Mobil's record profit and the decision of my neighbors to move forward with a wind power project, that choice couldn't be clearer.

Crossposted at Turn Maine Blue.