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  • Energy efficiency projects funded by RGGI save Maine hospitals thousands- so they can better serve communities

    “The Aroostook Medical Center is committed to providing high quality healthcare at a reasonable cost, all while being good stewards of our environment,” said Timothy M. Doak, Facility Engineer, The Aroostook Medical Center speaking. “Efficiency Maine, utilizing RGGI funds, has been a critical partner in that endeavor." 

    On February 16, 2016 leaders of major hospitals In Bangor, Aroostook County, and Mid-Coast Maine joined together with a top commercial building efficiency expert and the head of Maine’s leading environmental group to focus on the financial benefits of hospital energy efficiency improvements that have been funded by the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI).

    “The record shows the value of RGGI to our hospitals, to our efficiency businesses, and our environment is enormous,” said Lisa Pohlmann, Executive Director, Natural Resources Council of Maine. “Today we can see the real-world energy efficiency improvements, made possible with RGGI funds, delivering major benefits to the state.” 

    The super-efficient cogeneration plant that served as a backdrop for today’s press conference reduces the amount of natural gas EMMC burns to heat its facility, as well as the amount of electricity they need to buy. RGGI has helped to fund this kind of equipment at locations around the state, including Jackson Laboratory in Bar Harbor.

    “The Aroostook Medical Center is committed to providing high quality healthcare at a reasonable cost, all while being good stewards of our environment,” said Timothy M. Doak, Facility Engineer, The Aroostook Medical Center. “Efficiency Maine, utilizing RGGI funds, has been a critical partner in that endeavor.  Our most recent project alone is reducing our electrical costs by $89,000 annually, helping us to control health care costs while also reducing greenhouse gas emissions. This is just one example of how RGGI is benefiting Maine and Mainers.”

    The control room for an efficient boiler at Eastern Maine Medical Center in Bangor demonstrated the importance of channeling RGGI funds to help hospitals and other commercial, industrial, and residential energy users invest in energy efficiency improvements. 

    “We believe that a healthy environment is critical to the health of our patients and families in our community,” said Helen McKinnon, RN, vice president, Support Services, Eastern Maine Medical Center. “Our partnerships with NRCM and Efficiency Maine have been critical to our success in enhancing our ongoing energy conservation and efficiency programs. Not only have these programs reduced our emissions and promoted a healthier environment, but they have decreased our energy costs and allowed us to focus more resources on direct patient care.”

    Not only can energy conservation reduce overall business expenses and harmful carbon pollution - it can also improve lighting conditions for a better workplace environment.

    “Our company works with hospitals and medical facilities throughout the entire state of Maine and in New Hampshire and Vermont. Our work has saved Maine hospitals millions of dollars in operating costs and substantially reduced climate-changing pollution, and we have been awarded multiple awards for energy conservation from Efficiency Maine. To continue this good work, it is extremely important that RGGI funding be available so these energy conservation projects can continue,” said Chris Green, President of Mechanical Services, a Maine corporation with over 100 employees and offices in Portland, Augusta, Bangor, and Presque Isle. 

    “Pen Bay Medical Center is committed to providing high quality, compassionate, patient-centered care to our friends and neighbors in the Midcoast,” said Louis Dinneen, Vice President of Engineering & Facilities at Pen Bay Medical Center. “We are grateful for the partnership of the Efficiency Maine Trust, whose support has allowed us to provide more reliable heating/cooling and brighter and more efficient lighting, all while significantly reducing our operating costs and overall environmental impact.”

    The importance of the Clean Power Plan - RGGI is a model

    The Clean Power Plan sets the first limits ever on carbon pollution from power plants. Power plants are the nation’s largest source of this pollution, generating 40 percent nationwide. The plan is constantly under attack from U.S. Senators in coal-producing states and their allies. The votes of Maine Senators Collins and King are crucial to preserving this much-needed plan.

    “RGGI is seen as a model for other states across the U.S., as they prepare to implement the EPA’s Clean Power Plan. Because of RGGI, Maine in a position to easily meet targets set in the Plan,” said Pohlmann.

     Independent economic analysis has revealed that RGGI has provided a net benefit to the economy of Maine and the region since it was started in 2008. Over the last three years alone, RGGI as added $122 million to the Maine State Gross Product as well as hundreds of jobs. (Analysis Group, 2015) The program has also caused a net reduction in energy costs of hundreds of millions of dollars and has dramatically lowered carbon pollution from power plants across the region. Today coal and oil provide a much lower portion of Maine’s electricity mix than they did at the start of RGGI.

    “RGGI is a shining example of how smart, innovative policies can meet our environmental, economic, and energy challenges,” said Pohlmann. “With energy efficiency projects at hospitals like these, we can see how RGGI is providing benefits that reach into our health care community as well. Maine should be proud of its approach to RGGI.”

    Just this past Novemeber over 200 nations agreed to cut back carbon emmissions in Paris at the Climate Conference. The USA was heralded as leading the way. A key component to the implementation of the Paris agreement depends on the USA's Clean Power Plan.

    Despite the success of RGGI, efforts to roll back the program pop up periodically in Augusta, while in Washington, DC, polluters have sought to repeal the Clean Power Plan before it even gets underway. Both kinds of attacks appear blind to the actual benefits of RGGI. Governor LePage has submitted legislation to slash the use of RGGI funds for energy efficiency programs for businesses such as these three hospitals. That legislation is currently in front of Maine’s Energy & Utilities committee.

    “Right now legislation under consideration in Augusta would cut RGGI funding for large energy users by 80 percent, costing Maine businesses and institutions more than $100 million in increased energy bills,” said NRCM’s Lisa Pohlmann. “NRCM supports increasing, or, at least maintaining, current funding levels for energy efficiency.

  • 70 percent support bond to reduce heating costs with expanded Home Energy Efficiency

    By Ramona du Houx

    As members of the Maine legislature’s Appropriations committee consider a variety of bond proposals to send to voters, a poll of likely voters shows fully 70 percent support a proposed $30 million bond to improve the energy efficiency of 30,000 Maine homes. 

    LD 1341, sponsored by Senator Dawn Hill of York, would substantially accelerate efforts to help Maine people lower heating costs by improving the efficiency of their homes through measures such as insulation, reducing air leaks and upgrading the efficiency of heating equipment, including wood pellets, heat pumps, and traditional fuels.

    Overall 70 percent of voters strongly or somewhat support the bond. The percentage of voters who “strongly support” the proposed bond was 42 percent, nearly three times those who strongly oppose (15 percent), which is an important indicator of how well the measure would actually perform on the ballot.

    “Most policymakers probably already know that Mainers want to reduce heating bills, and believe improving the efficiency of our homes is a top priority,” said Dylan Voorhees, Clean Energy Director of the Natural Resources Council of Maine. “This poll shows that, given the chance, Mainers would vote for a bond to help pay for it. We have a very successful initiative going at Efficiency Maine and it’s time to bring these benefits to more Maine people.”

    “We have spent a lot of time this session trying to avoid unintended cuts to Efficiency Maine programs. That has to be our top priority, but it’s really not enough,” said Senator Dawn Hill, the Assistant Senate Minority leader and a member of the Energy committee. “There are too many inefficient homes out there and too many Mainers struggling to heat affordably. Weatherizing more homes is one of the most cost-effective things we can do as a state to lower heating costs.”

    Support for the bond was high across geographic and demographic categories, with majority support from every region, income group, age and political party. Support was particularly high among those over 65 years old, women, and those with a college education.

    The bond proposes to direct $22 million to Efficiency Maine, to supplement a highly successful Home Energy Savings Program that has run for the last 18 months. This fiscal year (ending this month) Efficiency Maine expects over 10,000 homes to participate through a wide variety of home improvements. The program provides information and technical assistance, rebates and loans, and helps homeowners connect with qualified businesses that can provide services to improve home efficiency and install heating equipment.

    “Weatherization is a common sense solution that has improved my home,” said Emily Vail, a teacher in Topsham who recently used Efficiency Maine’s Home Energy Savings Program. “Communities, individuals, businesses, and Efficiency Maine are all working together to generate real energy-saving results for people like me. I hope that more Mainers can save energy and money like I have thanks to this program.”

    Due to previous carry forwards, the program budget this year is $10 million, however, without legislative action, the budget will shrink to $7.5 million next year.

    If the typo in the omnibus efficiency law is corrected, and there are no cuts to Efficiency Maine, existing resources could help roughly 38,000 homes over the next four years. If the proposed bond were approved, it would add another 30,000 homes, for a total of 68,000 homes over the next four years. That is the equivalent of all the housing units in Lewiston, Auburn, Sanford, Waterville, Presque Isle, Skowhegan and Caribou combined. That would result in saving more than 100 million gallons of heating oil over the lifetime of those efficiency upgrades.

    "Like a lot of Mainers, I have an old home that was a real burden to heat," said Kathleen Meil, a homeowner in Rockport who participated in Efficiency Maine’s Home Energy Savings Program. “I would never have been able to invest in energy-saving improvements without the help of Efficiency Maine’s loans and rebates. Thanks to these programs, it takes less oil and less money to keep my home more comfortable. We have to work together to get these cost-effective solutions to homeowners like me before the next spike in heating oil prices comes or there will be enormous hardship around the state.”

    Meil also works at Evergreen Home Performance, a Maine company that specializes in home energy evaluations and weatherization. “I know, both personally and professionally, that Efficiency Maine makes the difference between homeowners being able complete efficiency improvements versus putting them off or not affording them,” Meil said. “It’s time to intensify all of our efforts to improve the efficiency of Maine’s housing stock.”

    The remaining $8 million would go to the Maine State Housing Authority, which works with the Community Action Programs throughout the state to cover the cost of weatherizing low-income homes (defined as those who qualify for heating assistance.) The bond would increase the number of households improved over the next four years from a likely 2,000 to nearly 3,600.

    LD 1341 is co-sponsored by Senator Linda Valentino, ranking member of the Appropriations committee and Senator David Woodsome and Rep. Mark Dion, the Republican and Democratic co-chairs of the Energy committee.

    “With their older, drafty homes, many Maine people struggle to afford to stay warm each winter, especially when oil prices rise, which they eventually will,” said Senator David Woodsome, co-chair of the Energy committee. “Finding resources to expand our efficiency programs is not easy, but it’s what we were sent to Augusta to do. I think this bond is a common sense solution.”

    Like previous sessions, this Legislature has struggled with finding resources to support home efficiency initiatives. This year the legislature has all but rejected redirecting funds collected and intended for other purposes, such as revenue from timber harvesting on public land or funds collected from electric ratepayers related to Maine Yankee.

    RGGI - the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, is made up of nine East coast states, including Maine. It is a successful cap-n-trade program, which started during the Baldacci Administration. Over $13 million has come to Maine thru RGGI and has improved the lives and livelihoods of many families and businesses with energy efficiency programs. Lawmakers have been able to insure funds from RGGI would flow to more of these programs but Gov. LePage wants to change the omnibus energy bill that has this provision.

    “One of the reasons the omnibus energy bill was so significant was because it directed a portion of RGGI funds to be used for home efficiency on an ongoing basis,” said Voorhees. “Now that the programs are running and proving their success, we need to find new ways to accelerate our progress, and Maine people clearly agree.”