"Energy efficiency is the biggest win-win-win I can imagine for Maine’s economy, environment, and energy future,” said Dylan Voorhees, Clean Energy Director for the Natural Resources Council of Maine urging the Efficiency Maine Trust and Public Utilities Commission to come up with a strong energy plan. Courtesy photo
By Ramona du Houx
As The Efficiency Maine Trust held a public input session, a diverse group of experts called on Efficiency Maine and the Maine Public Utilities Commission (PUC) to develop and approve, respectively, a strong three-year plan that will maximize energy savings for homes, businesses, industry, and municipalities.
By maximizing energy savings businesses have had more funds to invest in their enterprises like hiring people.
“Everybody seems to talk about the fact that Maine homes are some of the oldest and leakiest in the country,” said Richard Burbank, President of Evergreen Home Performance. “But Efficiency Maine and the businesses like mine aren’t just talking about it, we’re addressing the problem. Efficiency Maine is rapidly accelerating the rate of home energy improvements and, as a result, companies like ours are growing and hiring workers. Much more remains to be done, but we’re charting the right course.”
The September 24th day-long stakeholder meeting at the Augusta Civic Center followed a contentious legislative session that ended in lawmakers voting unanimously to reaffirm their commitment to Maine’s strong energy-efficiency law.
“Energy efficiency is the most powerful strategy Maine can pursue to address our energy challenges,” said Dylan Voorhees, Clean Energy Director for the Natural Resources Council of Maine. “This has been reaffirmed by the Legislature, the impressive results of Efficiency Maine programs, and by business leaders and ordinary Mainers every day. Having a strong three-year plan is the foundation of Maine’s progress on energy efficiency.”
According to Maine law, every three years Efficiency Maine must develop a plan that lays out the programs, initiatives, and budgets it will use to help homeowners, small businesses, industrial producers, and others save money through energy-efficiency improvements. These range from helping homeowners install insulation, to helping small businesses cut electricity bills with lighting retrofits, to helping hospitals and paper mills install sophisticated high-efficiency equipment.
In FY 2015 alone, Efficiency Maine helped roughly 4,000 businesses (most of them small businesses), 10,000 homeowners, and more than 3,000 units in larger multifamily buildings. It launched a new program specifically designed to help small businesses by bringing ready-to-go lighting improvements right to their doorstep. Roughly 350 small businesses participated in this initiative, primarily focused in Aroostook County and Waterville-Winslow.
“Small businesses are a foundation of the Maine economy and our members are deeply committed to saving energy with energy efficiency,” said Will Ikard, Director of the Maine Small Business Coalition. “We applaud Efficiency Maine for beginning to focus more intensely on initiatives for small businesses and urge them to step up those efforts significantly in the next three years.”
Maine’s energy-efficiency efforts get a big boost from our participation in the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI.)
RGGI is a cooperative market-based effort to reduce climate-changing carbon pollution from power plants and spur investments in energy efficiency and clean energy. Allowance auctions have taken place quarterly since September 2008, generating $70,402,611.85 million in total for Maine.
RGGI carbon markets currently generate about $15 million/year that Maine uses to support energy-efficiency efforts, specifically those that reduce oil use. This includes the Home Energy Savings Program and programs for large manufacturers.
RGGI is providing significant benefits to Maine by supporting cost-effective weatherization and efficiency improvements through Efficiency Maine, which was developed under the Baldacci administration. Former State Senator and current Portland City Councilor Jon Hinck helped herald the legislation through the legislative process.
"Not only has RGGI helped clean up and diversify Maine's energy mix and make us more energy efficient, it demonstrates the potential to make even more positive gains when done right," said Former State Senator and current Portland City Councilor Jon Hinck in an interview.
Richard Burbank, President of Evergreen Home Performance (at the left in the courtesy photo) said, “ Efficiency Maine is rapidly accelerating the rate of home energy improvements and, as a result, companies like ours are growing and hiring workers."
RGGI took on additional significance when the U.S. EPA finalized its Clean Power Plan, the first national limits on carbon pollution from power plants. Under the Clean Power Plan, it is expected that Maine and the region will continue to operate RGGI (which is stricter than the Clean Power Plan), and continue to lower both energy costs and carbon pollution through energy efficiency.
Over the first four years of its operation (2010-2014), Efficiency Maine initiatives yielded $1 billion in lifetime energy savings, primarily in electricity and heating oil reductions. Every dollar invested by Efficiency Maine—which is generally matched by spending on the part of the home or business—has yielded more than $5 in energy savings.
“Energy efficiency is a fantastic investment for the state of Maine,” said Tom Tietenberg, Professor of Economics, Emeritus, at Colby College and a former board member of the Efficiency Maine Trust. “By helping homes and businesses overcome informational, technical, and financial barriers, Efficiency Maine is helping energy consumers of all types keep more of their dollars in their pockets. These savings, in turn, mean more spending within Maine and a boost to the economy."
Maine policymakers have recognized the proven successes and excellent economic returns that energy efficiency provides. Maine law requires Efficiency Maine to develop a plan that seeks to capture all cost-effective energy-efficiency savings opportunities that it can achieve.
In 2013, the Legislature passed an omnibus energy bill that clarified this standard, and capped ratepayer contributions at $60 million/year. In 2015, in reaction to a PUC decision to limit efficiency spending to less than $25 million, the Legislature voted unanimously, over Governor LePage’s veto, to reaffirm that efficiency spending could be up to $60 million, as long as the spending met the “cost-effectiveness” test.
“We know three things very clearly,” said Voorhees. “First, energy efficiency is extremely cost-effective. Second, Maine’s efficiency efforts are a proven success. Third, there are huge opportunities to improve the energy efficiency of our buildings. If you put those together, the direction Maine must take is clear: we should do as much energy efficiency as we can. Energy efficiency is the biggest win-win-win I can imagine for Maine’s economy, environment, and energy future.”