Maine’s Home Improvement Programs that Save Energy, Money, and Lives

Last year the governor announced his new program — the KeepMe Warm charitable fuel fund: $5 million of state funds were matched by private donations to help the most vulnerable keep "safe, warm and secure," said the governor. The fuel fund grew out of the Governor’s KeepMe Warm winterization program, where homes are winterized.

by Ramona du Houx

As summer comes to a close and gas prices remain high, many families are concerned about energy prices. As the state continues work on the budget, homeowners are projecting what they are going to need to budget in for energy prices to get through the winter.

Last winter Governor Baldacci worked with CITGO to ensure the most vulnerable citizens received discounted oil. Over 48,000 people were helped by CITGO’s generosity, and the governor’s KeepME Warm charitable fuel fund raised millions in Maine to help people in need.

This year marks the third year of the governor’s unique program, called Operation Keep ME Warm, which helps seniors and persons with disabilities prepare for the cold winter months. Every year the governor personally has helped insulate homes, encouraging volunteers to come forward to help their neighbors. Communities across the state have responded.

"Over the past two years hundreds of volunteers throughout the state have installed winterization kits in nearly 4,000 homes," said the governor. "This year the program will run from October 19th through the 22nd. We will soon be looking for over 1,000 volunteers to help install the kits in 3,000 homes."

The basic home insulation, including calking, putting plastic around the house, changing over to energy-efficient lights, placing a plastic cover over windows, pipe insulation, and changing the furnace’s filter, could save someone up to $200 per year. And it has.

With Operation KeepME Warm, CITGO’s assistance, and the governor’s KeepME Warm charitable fuel fund, heating systems stayed on during the winter last year, helping maintain home-owners’ health — and in some cases saving their lives. One sweet elderly woman said she didn’t have to turn down the furnace because she knew she was saving money with the insulation work volunteers had done.

Building or insulating a home with energy efficiency measures helps sustain the environment, as well as sustaining a homeowner’s personal economy.

Maine Home Performance with Energy Star—

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 The governor’s new pilot program to make homes more energy efficient could save homeowners up to 20% on their energy bills.  Brian Hartford talks with the governor about cost savings using more efficient heating systems.

In August the governor announced a new pilot program — Maine Home Performance with Energy Star which provides Maine homeowners a "whole house" approach to reducing their energy bills.

"This is a very important program for Maine; it’s cutting edge stuff," said Conrad Metcalfe, lead consultant of the project, "Because of Maine’s location, the state has one of the nation’s highest energy costs. The program is perfect for Maine."

"These energy improvements can reduce energy bills by as much as 50 percent," said the governor while addressing a group of contractors that are in the program. "This week’s training will provide you with the tools to use green energy technology and building science to calculate a home’s energy consumption. Then, you can give homeowners the information they need to make cost-effective energy saving improvements to their homes."

"These home improvements will reduce energy bills, improve comfort, reduce maintenance costs, and improve the health of buildings," said Beth Negesky, director of the Office of Energy Independence and Security, which sponsors the program.

The three-year pilot program will provide training and marketing support to contractors in York, Cumberland, and Androscoggin counties. Once trained, the contractors will be able to go into homes and make energy audits. Customers will have access to financing options, including the Maine Housing Authority’s low-interest loans for eligible households.

"We can really help homeowners significantly reduce their energy bills with this program," said Negesky.

"I’m excited about this program. It’s a great way to promote weatherization and energy efficiency. It’s helping people get the skills necessary to make needed home improvements, and in a lot of cases it’s providing employment opportunities," said the governor.

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The governor talks to participants in his new program that instructs contractors how to do energy efficiency audits.

Richard Burbank says there is a great need in the state for such a program. In fact he believes that need is so great he is starting Energy Home Performance, a new business consulting on energy efficiency.

"It is a change," said Burbank, who is also a participant in the pilot program. "I own an apartment building in Rockland that had no insulation. I soon found out that it was hard to get anyone in with knowledge on how to make the building more energy efficient." Burbank worked for MBNA. "The program came at just the right time."

 The Home Energy Loan Program  (HELP)

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The governor announces the first ever low interest loan program in Maine for homeowners that make their residents energy efficient.

A dynamic new program was unveiled at the State House in September, helping middle-income families deal with the onslaught of winter’s energy costs. The new $7 million Home Energy Loan Program (HELP) provides low-interest-rate energy improvement loans to Maine’s working families.

"In the face of rising heating costs we need to do more to keep people warm safe and secure. And we are," said the governor. "This is an important new program."

HELP is the first program of its kind in Maine.

Working in partnership with lending institutions, the state is putting forward $7 million toward HELP. Banks participating receive a $400 origination fee. Participating lenders will be offering one percent loans, if the homeowner has a certified energy audit done, a three percent loan if they don’t. The loans can be as much as $15,000 dollars. The cost of the energy audit can be included in the loan.

"My advice is to get an energy audit done that will give you a road map. Then you’ve got that tool to take to the lender to get the one percent loan, which will pay for itself in energy saved," said the governor.

"A home improvement loan at one percent is wonderful," said Maine Housing Director Dale McCormick, whose office put together the program.

"Maine Housing estimates that HELP may enable homeowners to cut their yearly energy consumption from 15 to 20 percent. It’s really a triple whammy," said the governor. "This one gets the grand slam: You get the benefit of adding value to your home with a one percent loan — which will pay for itself in energy costs saved — and it diminishes our need for fossil fuels. It’s a win on all accounts."

The HELP loans can finance energy improvements in one- to four-unit owner-occupied homes and mobile homes less than 20 years old.

"This program helps reduce household energy bills, lowers our dependence on foreign oil, and reduces carbon emissions — slowing global warming," said Maine Housing Director Dale McCormick. "Governor Baldacci has encouraged us to make Maine more energy independent, and save some homeowners money. HELP is a step toward that goal."

McCormick said HELP loans can be used to fund a variety of energy conservation measures, including insulation and weather stripping, heating system repair or replacement, storm doors and storm windows, purchase of Energy Star-rated appliances and windows, and others.

The loans are available from: Bath Savings Institution, Camden National Bank, Northeast Bank, Northeast Home Loan, Norway Savings Bank, Skowhegan Savings Bank, The First, and United Kingfield Bank.

Efficiency Maine:

"Maine has little control over what is behind rising energy prices, but we do have some control over how much energy we need to heat our homes, keep our lights on, and operate our vehicles," said Governor Baldacci. "Saving energy is not only good for our wallets. It is good for the health of our people and our planet."

Through Efficiency Maine there are a number of programs Mainers and businesses can participate in to combat global warming. Efficiency Maine promotes efficient use of electricity and helps Maine residents and businesses reduce energy costs.

Efficiency Maine’s Residential Lighting Program offers a $2 instant rebate on ENERGY STAR qualified compact fluorescent bulbs (CFLs) and $12 off ENERGY STAR qualified outdoor CFL hard-wired fixtures. Participating retailers deduct the rebate from the customer’s bill at the store. CFLs use two-thirds less energy than incandescent light bulbs.

In the past year, Maine’s Community Action Programs, working with Efficiency Maine, have delivered over 7,701 refrigerators and more than 6,000 CFLs to low-income customers who will save an average of $220 per year on their electricity bills.

Efficiency Maine reported that its programs have achieved savings of 17,918 MWh/year for Maine consumers, which is enough to provide electricity to approximately 2,800 Maine homes.

The Office of Energy Independence and Security also keeps the public informed on ways to be more energy efficient. Their latest effort provides 21 tips on how to be more fuel wise. Please visit: http://maineenergyinfo.com/ — a nine-state agency project that provides easy access to Maine energy information.

In 2003 Maine challenged a refusal by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to regulate carbon dioxide. While lower courts have sided with the EPA the Supreme Court made a recent decision to review a case that could force the federal government to limit carbon dioxide emissions. "It’s very clear that emissions of carbon dioxide are posing a threat to public safety and welfare," said Jerry Reid, an assistant attorney general for Maine.

Maine is leading the way by example for other states, and hopefully the nation, to follow. Global warming can be fought but it will take the dedication and resolve of individuals and leaders like Governor Baldacci around the world. We all can and need to make a difference. We are all in this together.