Energy Forum Highlights Conservation, Community Action

By Andrea Shiell, County Times

LEXINGTON PARK, Md.—“We just thought it was a fabulous idea,” said League of Women Voters President Janice Hummel while she helped set up for the league’s forum on energy and the environment at Lexington Park Public Library on Saturday, Jan. 10. “We’re hoping to gain some insight on what is happening and what direction we are going in,” she said.

Insight may have been the word of the day, too, as the public forum featured representatives from St. Mary’s County Public Schools, SMECO, St. Mary’s College of Maryland (SMCM), the Board of County Commissioners, and Patuxent River NAS. Other groups, including the Chesapeake Climate Action Network (CCAN), offered pamphlets on energy conservation and legislative action.

“30 years ago I was driving a ’61 Ford Falcon…and fuel prices were killing me,” said Commissioner Larry Jarboe in his opening remarks, “so I started doing research…and I found out that fuel every few years changes, and there’s a reason they’re doing that, and it’s not to get better fuel efficiency,” he said, adding that corporations “are programming inefficiency into our fuels,” for their own profit.

Other panel members agreed with Jarboe’s statements, including Larry Hartwick, Supervisor of Design and Construction for SMCPS, SMCM co-chair Chip Jackson, LaSandra Nelson, public works specialist for Patuxent River NAS, and Jeff Shaw, Environmental and Energy Conservation Manager for SMECO, but Saturday’s event centered most on proposed alternative energy solutions, which panel members discussed at length as they were asked questions by audience members.

“We want you to reduce your usage,” said Shaw, explaining that SMECO is set to launch several new public education campaigns in the next few months, including the state-sponsored “Change a Light, Change the World” program, which offers free energy efficient light bulbs to residents.

When asked what energy sources they envisioned for the future, Shaw said that the government is offering tax credits to residents who install wind turbines, while others, including Nelson and Hartwick, said that solar panels would be their main areas of focus, particularly for new commercial buildings.

When asked if property tax credits would be made more available for St. Mary’s residents installing wind or solar power systems, Jarboe said county subsidies would depend on community involvement.

“Unfortunately the public forum over the last couple of years has been taken away from government, “ said Jarboe, reflecting that the political climate of the times might not allow for its reestablishment without public outcry. “We need to get the public forum back so we can bring these ideas forward and get the other commissioners onboard,” he said.

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