Technology, not Politics: Meet LePage's Energy Team


by Terrilyn Simpson

They’re self taught. They’ve traveled the world solving energy and engineering problems. They learned practical applications of complicated theories during World War II and studied at Harvard and Brown and Princeton. All Maine residents now, they sat down together recently with Governor Paul LePage — at the first meeting of the governor’s energy advisory team. Bureaucratically, it doesn’t even have a formal name but on a practical level, they’re there to give technical advice based from their various fields of expertise.

Jim LaBrecque of Bangor met LePage at the studio of WVOM Radio in Bangor when LePage was running for governor. LaBrecque is a self-educated mechanical and electrical engineer with a number of patents and projects to his credit, including the development of an advanced refrigeration technology that does not use chlorofluorocarbons. Gregarious, with a self-deprecating sense of humor and a quick handshake, LaBrecque introduced himself, said he knew something about energy issues and told the soon-to-be governor he’d like to help him with his campaign. The two started a dialogue, meeting again face-to-face at LePage’s mayoral office in Waterville.

The meetings continued after LePage was elected to the Blaine House, with ongoing discussion as to how LaBrecque’s expertise could best be utilized by the new administration. LaBrecque had experience as a consultant and adviser to multiple things energy — he’s an outside instructor at the Engineering Department at the University of Maine. He’s developed and holds patents on an “integrated high system technology that multi-tasks all energy needs for supermarkets.” He’s installed a number of systems in New York, including one in Trump Towers. And he knows lots of experts in his and related energy fields.

The two settled on the role of technical adviser. And then LePage asked LaBrecque to put together a team of technical advisers.

“The governor is looking at energy problems through the eyes of technologists and economists,” said LaBrecque. “He’s looking for truly viable solutions that can be quickly implemented and that meet viability standards that attract free market money — and not subsidies.”

And so LaBrecque identified the group of individuals from technologically diverse backgrounds who currently comprise the LePage energy advisory team.

As former President of Bangor Hydro, Carroll Lee was responsible for providing electricity to approximately 110,000 customers in eastern Maine. He oversaw a workforce of approximately 450 employees and annual revenues of $200 million. He managed Bangor Hydro’s power supply resources, including the construction of a modern $45 million hydro-electric power plant and automation of several existing hydro plants. Lee was the 2009 recipient of the Edward Bryand Distinguished Engineer Award.

Bill Lovejoy has held senior engineering positions at Duke Energy Corporation, Georgia Pacific LLC and NAES Corporation, listed as “the energy industry’s largest independent provider of operations, construction and maintenance services.” Said LaBrecque, “He goes around the world fine-tuning big power plants.”

Scott Dunning is Director of the University of Maine School of Engineering Technology, which works closely with industry to ensure hands on experience for students in the fields of Construction Management Technology, Electrical Engineering Technology, Mechanical Engineering Technology and Surveying Engineering Technology.

Mick Peterson is the Libra Foundation Professor of Engineering in the Mechanical Engineering Department at the University of Maine. He studied at General Motors Institute, Cornell, Yale and Northwestern University. He worked for General Motors and later for General Dynamics doing submarine acoustics work. He has spent his academic career working in both areas of science and engineering as well as working extensively with private companies conducting research, and he holds three patents.

Dr. Tom Eastler, who studied at Brown University and holds a Ph.D. from Columbia, is a professor of geology at the University of Maine at Farmington. Said LaBrecque, “Tom’s been lecturing on the oil crisis since the embargo of ’73.”

Don Lewis is a manufacturer of heat pumps and other related energy equipment. A former mechanical engineering student of Professor Dick Hill more than 40 years ago, according to LaBrecque, with background in refrigeration and heat pump technology, Lewis has developed kiln drying systems for the lumber industry.

Dr. George Markowsky is Professor of Computer Science and Department Chair at the University of Maine, where he runs the University of Maine Homeland Security Lab and also the Cybersecurity Lab. He is the chief organizer of the 2010 Northeast Collegiate Cyber Defense Competition. He received, among other recognitions, an Outstanding Contribution Award by IBM and a Top Ten Techies to Watch Designation by Massachusetts High Technology Magazine.

Professor Dick Hill best summed up his own experience in a recent letter to the editor countering a criticism of LePage’s energy policy and understanding of energy related issues. Among other statements, LePage critic Mike Mayhew wrote in his own letter to the editor, “The governor has no formal energy education and continues to make incorrect energy policy statements….Our governor’s Lewiston street smarts are greatly lacking in basic scientific knowledge…..”

Countered LePage Energy Team Adviser Dick Hill: “Prior to WWII, I worked as an engineer with the General Electric turbine division; during the war I worked for GE on gas turbines for aircraft; after the war, I became Professor of Mechanical Engineering at the University of Maine (thermodynamics, fluid mechanics, heat transfer, etc.). I was the (Principal Investigator) on several US DOE contracts, hold several patents on wood burning appliances and refrigeration systems. I was appointed by Governor Longley to a committee to evaluate the Dickey-Lincoln hydro electric proposal. At age 93 I have been there and done that.”

Continued Hill, “Governor Paul LePage and I are not political kin. During the 1948 election (Dewey vs. Truman), I voted for Norman Thomas, the Socialist candidate. In spite of this, Governor LePage has invited me, along with several members of the energy policy cognoscenti, to meetings in his office to discuss energy matters. He asks the right questions……..”

LePage’s approach, said LaBrecque, could have a “profound impact on what the state is trying to achieve for home and business heating needs…….”

“He’s not looking to lawyers, lobbyists and special interest groups.”

Instead, said LaBrecque, LePage is looking to technology.