Energy efficient light bulbs, solar power and basic insulation save energy. Some companies have installed windmills for power, as well. Photo by Ramona du Houx

There are many programs available from Efficiency ME, as well as new loans

 Summer 2008

Article by Ramona du Houx

The first-ever Governor’s Energy Efficiency Summit subtitled Strengthening Business Through Energy Savings, was held at the Augusta Civic Center last spring.

The summit brought home the message for attendees of the enormous potential that aggressive energy efficiency investments hold for Maine’s economic future.

“As a state, we spend more than $5 billion on energy annually — and three quarters of those dollars flow straight out of Maine to pay for imported fuels and power,” said Governor John E. Baldacci. “I have a selfish goal for Maine: I want us to do everything that we possibly can to keep our energy dollars in our own pockets. I want us to reduce our energy bills by eliminating energy waste. I want us to have the most energy efficient economy in New England. And I want us to create new jobs in the energy services sector.”

The summit offered Maine businesses and other participants a daylong forum for learning about energy efficiency strategies that can save them money and to share their experiences coping with today’s high energy prices. It included an expo of the latest energy-efficient technologies and the unveiling of a new report commissioned by the State Planning Office that details the economic opportunities energy efficiency presents for Maine.

The governor announced that the Finance Authority of Maine (FAME) was adding $1 million to boost an existing Efficiency Maine program operated by the Maine Public Utilities Commission (PUC) that makes low-cost small business loans for efficiency investments. The new program will raise the loan limit from $35,000 to $250,000.

“Over 550 businesses attended the summit, which was greater than expected. And what was wonderful about it was that they realized there is a lot that they can do on their own to become more energy efficient. It’s unfortunate that they had to leave their businesses to come to the summit, but what was great about it was that they made connections,” said Governor Baldacci. “They found people, face to face, who handle the low interest loans at FAME; they found the people at the Public Utilities Commission that handle Efficiency Maine — they’ve helped over 500 businesses get $50 million worth of grants to improve their energy efficiency. This is one of many steps we will take in the days, months, and years ahead to help Mainers and Maine businesses take control of their energy future.”

Two years ago Oakhurst Dairy converted its fleet of trucks to use biodiesel fuel and improved efficiency in refrigeration. Now the dairy is in the process of installing solar hot-water panels on the roof to preheat water used in the dairy plant. The company will save 5,000 gallons of heating oil a year. Recovering wasted heat from the system will save an additional 2,500 gallons of oil. Oakhurst’s goal is to reduce carbon emissions 20 percent by 2010.

“For us, it makes business sense because over time it will save us money,” said a company spokesman. “And that helps make us more competitive. By converting to biodiesel we’ve seen results. We also believe in being an environmentally friendly company.” Oakhurst is one of the few dairies left in the nation that do not use growth hormones in their products.

How Oakhurst Dairy reaches its goal to reduce carbon emissions by 20 percent by 2010 interested other businesses at the summit who were discovering that becoming energy efficient helps their profit margins as well as the environment. The state’s Efficiency Maine program helped Oakhurst.

Efficiency Maine is a statewide effort to promote more efficient use of electricity, help Maine residents and businesses reduce energy costs, and improve Maine’s environment. The program is funded by electricity consumers and administered by the Maine Public Utilities Commission. Since 2003, Efficiency Maine has paid cash incentives to more than 980 Maine businesses to help them purchase and install electric energy-saving equipment. This equipment is saving Maine businesses more than 56 million kWh annually. For more information, visit http://www.efficiencymaine.com.

At the summit the governor was presented with the new white paper, written by Muskie School of Public Service Professors Charles Colgan and Samuel Merrill and Margaret Chase Smith Policy Center Professor Jonathan Rubin.

“Perhaps the single most effective action to enhance Maine’s business climate and economic competitiveness is to aggressively increase the energy efficiency of the Maine economy,” stated the report.

The report, titled Energy Efficiency, Business Competitiveness and Untapped Economic Potential in Maine, estimates that Maine businesses could spend six to eight times more on energy efficiency than they do now and still save $450 million a year in avoided energy costs. Those savings could lead to increased business spending and growth, which could create up to 2,500 new jobs increase total state production by nearly $170 million, and total state income by nearly $100 million, by 2020.

“Maine businesses are highly motivated on this issue, as the attendance at today’s event amply demonstrates,” said Dana Connors, president of the Maine State Chamber of Commerce. “Efficiency saves money and reduces carbon emissions. This is one of those cases where you can indeed do good, and do well at the same time.”

“We hope this summit represents a watershed moment as we begin to move beyond the idea of energy efficiency and really start making the decisions and investments that will put energy efficiency to work for Maine. Energy efficiency represents taking control of our energy destiny; making Maine’s economy and environment into what we want it to be,” said Brownie Carson, executive director of the Natural Resources Council of Maine. “Maine can’t control the price of oil or electricity, but we can control how much of them we need to buy. Improving energy efficiency saves Maine people money, strengthens our economy and protects our environment.”