Weatherization plans at work in Maine

By Ramona du Houx- January 3rd, 2010 

Margaret Baker, talks with Gov. John Baldacci during a visit, where he viewed weatherization efforts.
Margaret Baker, talks with Gov. John Baldacci during a visit, where he viewed weatherization efforts.
Last October the community action People’s Regional Opportunity Program, (PROP), began the weatherization retrofit of the home of Margaret Baker, with funds for weatherization projects through the Recovery Act. Photo by Ramona du Houx

“It’s beginning to feel warmer already,” said Baker, a widower on a fixed income, who struggled to meet her property taxes and pay for oil heat at the same time. “I really appreciate the help. I do get assistance from the Circuit Breaker program for the taxes, but with the price of oil I’ve had a hard time.”

Last year Baker sold some of her husband’s paintings to pay her bills. This year it will be different.

“They tell me this will save at least 20 percent in energy costs; that will make all the difference,” she said.

Governor John Baldacci visited the Baker residence in Freeport, along with the director of Efficiency Maine, John Brautigam, to highlight the increase in weatherization efforts across the state.

The Baldacci administration has focused on energy efficiency in all areas and Maine was recently ranked by the American Council for an Energy Efficient Economy as one of the top ten states leading in the clean-energy economy.

“We’re importing oil and exporting dollars and jobs. We’ve taken bold steps to change Maine’s dependency on costly foreign oil. Maine has earned its reputation as being a leader in the emerging field of energy efficiency,” said Governor Baldacci. “Weatherization efforts create jobs while saving residents and businesses money. These efforts are better for our environment, our economy, and our national security. Most importantly, these efforts will keep people like Margaret safe and secure this winter.”

With a total weatherizing makeover of a home or business, not only are windows, doors, and air leaks sealed, empty spaces in the walls are filled with environmentally friendly foam. Pipes are insulated, light bulbs updated to energy efficient ones, and other efficiency measures are taken. In essence the building becomes energy efficient in its new life, which saves from 20 to 30 percent in heating costs.

Maine has 477,000 homes, and most need at least caulk, weather stripping, and insulation.

“We are proud of the work we do,” said Noreen Norton, president of Weatherization Wizards, the new company contracted through PROP to weatherize the Baker residence. “After years in carpentry, my husband switched to weatherization last year.”

The Wizards are all certified to weatherize homes. Under the governor’s direction, since March 3rd, 2009, people interested in learning how to become weatherization technicians have been able to receive training via Interactive Television (ITV) at one of 14 University of Maine campuses and centers to meet the projected demand for certified workers. Wizard’s employees were respectful and the site appeared clean and free of obstructions.

“We want to ensure people feel comfortable with our workers and the process,” said Norton.

Community action programs have added 55 jobs and hired 30 private contractors to undertake the additional weatherization funded by the Recovery Act.

“MaineHousing will be financing 4,000 home-weatherizing projects over the next two years, using federal Recovery Act funds,” said Maine State Housing Director Dale McCormick. “It is an important first step toward Maine’s overall goal of weatherizing all Maine homes and half of our businesses in the next 20 years.”

For a state like Maine that is 80 percent oil dependent, weatherization retrofitting is essential for the health and well being of citizens and the economy.

“We’ve long had programs available to help electrical energy efficiency. For the first time we will have a weatherization program that will be available to middle-income people,” said Brautigam. “Partnering with Maine State Housing, we have $10 million from Recovery Act funds, which will be used to reach out to middle-income people who haven’t been able to move in this direction before now. This is a real significant program that moves towards the governor’s vision of weatherizing all Maine homes.”

These efforts are possible because of energy legislation based on what the governor outlined in his State-of-the-State address in January 2009. This comprehensive energy bill created the Efficiency Maine Trust and Board, which is directing tens of millions of dollars into weatherization, conservation, and efficiency programs. Among other provisions, it includes a 20-fold increase in weatherization.

The law established the goal to weatherize all residences and 50 percent of businesses, and reduce the state’s consumption of liquid fossil fuels by at least 30 percent by 2030.

Efficiency Maine is also developing a one-stop-shop for energy efficiency. This program will make it easier for people to access all the state’s energy-efficient programs, including financial assistance.

“Recovery Act funds have jumpstarted this initiative for the next two years,” said Baldacci. “Continuing funds could come from the leasing of energy-transmission corridors. Maine is on the road to energy independence by lessening our dependence on oil and making the most our of our sustainable natural resources.”

The total amount of weatherization for 2009 is $28 million. Of that amount, $4.2 million is from the Department of Energy Weatherization Assistance Program; $16.2 million is from the Recovery Act Weatherization Assistance Program funding; and $7.6 million is from LIHEAP Weatherization.

Maine State Housing is also in the forefront of developing a method to sell carbon savings from weatherization, to raise revenue for future weatherization projects. The agency created a methodology to measure the carbon savings from weatherization, which could be used as a national model.

“We have a huge need to weatherize homes,” said McCormick. “Not only do we lower our carbon footprint and reduce our dependence on foreign oil, we put money back into the pockets of our homeowners.”

Under the plan, businesses that want to reduce their carbon footprint would buy credits, effectively paying the housing authority to eliminate a certain amount of emissions by making homes more energy-efficient.