March 7, 2013

Maine’s Public Utilities Commission has approved a three-year plan to boost energy efficiency investments and now heads to the Legislature for approval.

By the end of the Efficiency Maine Trust’s three-year plan, the system benefit charge, which is a part of power rates customers pay, would increase. Now, the system benefit charge takes in just over $13 million a year. According to the PUC decision the new plan would increase that annual figure, over three years, to $40 million but those use energy efficient methods will see their bills go down as less energy will be used.

An analysis by Environment Northeast claims the efficiency investments made through that increased funding would ultimately drop Maine electricity rates 6 percent by 2025 and boost Gross State Product by $1.4 billion.

Over the past three years, the Efficiency Maine Trust’s funding has included Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (the New England cap and trade consortium) profits and federal stimulus dollars in addition to the system benefit charge, which is used to invest in broad efforts to reduce electricity, natural gas and heating oil consumption.

The latest three-year plan estimates it will save $500 million in energy costs over the life of its efficiency investments.

The Commission decided to apply a very conservative estimate of achievable savings. The PUC found that even the somewhat reduced Plan would save ratepayers considerably more than a business-as-usual investment level, with Commissioners stating in the order that if the increase were approved, “we have a high level of confidence that ratepayer money would be used cost-effectively.”

The PUC ruled that the Plan complies with all necessary laws. The PUC’s recommendation to increase investment in energy efficiency now goes to the Legislature.

“This PUC decision shows that Mainers could save hundreds of millions of dollars more on energy bills if we did more energy efficiency,” said Dylan Voorhees, Clean Energy Director for the Natural Resources Council of Maine. “Efficiency Maine’s plan would reduce Mainers’ energy bills by paying for efficiency at less than 3 cents/kwh instead of buying power supply at twice that price. Efficiency is the cheapest energy resource available for Maine ratepayers.”

ENE presented an economic analysis to the PUC showing that electric bills would drop by more than 6 percent by 2025 under the Trust’s proposal. It would also boost the Gross State Product by $1.4 billion and create more than 16,000 jobs. The PUC approved about 75 percent of the efficiency investment level proposed by the Trust.

“Investing in all energy efficiency that costs less than energy supply is a win-win-win for Maine energy consumers and the Maine economy,” said Beth Nagusky, ENE Maine Director. Nagusky was Gov. John Baldacci’s energy director.

This is the second Triennial Plan prepared by the Efficiency Maine Trust, the independent public entity tasked with helping Mainers reduce energy costs through investments in energy efficiency. In 2009, the PUC approved the first Plan, but failed to make a specific recommendation about how much efficiency would be beneficial for ratepayers. The previous Legislature failed to make changes from the business-as-usual amounts of energy efficiency.

During this proceeding, the PUC undertook a more detailed analysis of the Plan, especially of the supporting studies which identified the full amount of cost-effective energy efficiency savings that is achievable in Maine. This led the PUC to make a formal recommendation.

“Maine’s energy experts have spoken and they unanimously agree that the Legislature should significantly increase funding for energy efficiency,” said Greg Cunningham, Senior Attorney with the Conservation Law Foundation. “This detailed decision from the PUC confirms the value of Maine’s energy efficiency programs and the need for more funding to maximize their benefit to ratepayers.”

According to its Annual Report, in 2012 alone, Efficiency Maine helped homeowners and businesses achieve $71 million in net savings over the lifetime of the energy efficiency improvements.