Maine residents cut their heating oil use by 45 percent between 2004 and 2009

Energy efficiency programs and fuel alternatives promoted during that time have helped

BY RAMONA DU HOUX

December 12th, 2011 

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Figures from the U.S. Energy Information Administration show Maine households and businesses cut heating oil use by a higher percentage than any other New England state.In fact Maine residents slashed their heating oil use by 45 percent between 2004 and 2009.

However Maine remains more dependent on heating oil than any other state in the nation, causing a drain on the economy and on household and business budgets. According to the latest U.S. Census data, about 70 percent of households still heat by oil — that is down from 80 percent in 2000.

The state has weaned itself from oil heat in recent years largely because of the Baldacci administrations efforts.

• Insulation: Whole-house weatherization that includes air sealing and heavy insulation can cut heat use by 40 percent. Baldacci organized energy efficiency efforts to be conducted under one government agency — Efficiency Maine. This one-stop-shop for energy programs serves residents and businesses to achieve greater energy independence from oil.

• Rebate program: Efficiency Maine’s home energy savings program, initiated by the Baldacci administration, reached 3,200 households spending an average of $8,800 per home and cut energy use by an average of 40 percent.

• Loans to weatherize: PACE loans are now available through Efficiency Maine to take over from the energy savings program. Up to $10,000 can be loaned to homeowners at extremely low interest rates with long-term payments. The “revolving loan” as it is called can be transferred to new owners if the property is sold. The American Recovery Act invested $20 million in this program in Maine, because of all the energy programs already in place.

• In 2005 Baldacci introduced KeepME Warm to help low-income individuals and families keep their homes safe and secure throughout the winter. The public/private partnership insulated homes with simple, effective weatherization efforts, like chalking, putting plastic on windows, using energy-efficient bulbs, and insulating boilers.

• Using wood: Roughly one in ten Maine homes heat primarily with wood or wood pellets. In 2007 the Baldacci administration actively promoted wood pellets as an alternative heating source. “Maine is the Saudi Arabia of sustainable wood,” said Gov. Baldacci at that time.

• Solar and wind: In 2006 Baldacci introduced rebates for both alternative sources of energy for homeowners and businesses to use. The federal government also had tax incentives for alternative energy sources.

• A Brookings Institution report stated that Maine jobs classified within the clean economy grew by 4 percent a year between 2003 and 2010, while those jobs grew by 3.4 percent elsewhere in the nation. The state has 12,212 people working in the clean economy with an average income of $34,460, according to the report.

• More efficient oil burners: Modern oil boilers can consume 10 to 40 percent fewer gallons than older models.

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A decade ago, the typical Maine home burned 1,000 gallons a year; the average is now about 850 gallons. Many oil dealers have diversified and now sell propane, wood pellets, or solar panels.

Wood producers are also diversifying to become alternative energy producers. Old Town Fuel & Fiber got a $30 million U.S. Department of Energy grant and with a Maine Technology Institute grant to add a bioproducts refinery to its mill, and is working with the University of Maine’s Department of Chemical and Biological Engineering. Together, they are refining a process to turn a wood sugar extract into ethanol, butanol, and poly-grade lactic acid, and are experimenting with turning it into jet fuel.

The federal EIA is projecting record-high fuel prices this winter, up 10 percent from last year. Meanwhile the federal low-income heating oil program has been cut back for Maine residents. Author Stephen King will match the first $70,000 that his Bangor radio stations are raising to help area residents. Gov. LePage has suggested raiding Efficiency Maine of funding that normally goes to help our long-term weatherization efforts.

Efficiency Maine was established in 2002 with clear goals of saving energy, reducing energy costs, helping the environment, and promoting sustainable economic development. Efficiency Maine is funded through the system benefit charge included in electricity rates, the regional greenhouse gas initiative, and federal grants. Every dollar the agency has spent has generated nearly $3 in economic benefits.

Baldacci put together a 50-year plan to make Maine energy independent. Working with the Legislature, goals were set for producing two gigawatts of wind power by 2020, and to weatherize all residences and 50 percent of businesses by 2030, as well as to reduce the state’s consumption of liquid fossil fuels by at least 30 percent by 2030.

“The Comprehensive Energy Plan charts a 50-year vision for Maine’s energy future,” said John Kerry, former director of energy programs. “It moves us from an energy-fossil-fuel-orientated culture to a more energy-conservation culture, on to a future sustainable-energy culture.”

The plan:
• increases energy efficiency, conservation, and weatherization;
• fosters renewable energy;
• enhances the development of biofuels and other forms of energy;
• the state leads by example, with state energy-efficient buildings,
• enhances transportation systems for roads and trains and infrastructure to transport energy.
• and develops energy-emergency services.

The plan is still a road map for the future.