Editorial by Maine State Rep. Seth Berry

October 31, 2010

5afb7c93b67e3a62-ENVIRONMNETALPOLICIESRep. Seth Berry with his woodpile he uses to heat his home.

Ten or fifteen years ago it was hard for many to see that green energy and environmental protections go hand in hand with economic growth. But today, the two are increasingly intertwined. More and more, businesses and homeowners in Maine are turning to efficiency and renewable energy to improve their private and public bottom line.

In 2009, the State passed sweeping energy legislation to jumpstart green savings and jobs through weatherization, efficiency, and renewables.

Increasingly, we are now seeing Maine people and businesses save money and create jobs.

After undergoing an energy audit, my own family and I are now weatherizing our home. We are looking at replacing an inefficient pump, washer, and furnace controls, changing a window, and sealing out moisture that leads to mold and heat loss. We are also considering solar hot water.

These measures mean net savings from day one. At the end of each month — even during loan repayment — we will find more money in our pockets than before.

Our home improvement will put neighbors to work instead of oil executives. By buying efficiency and locally produced energy to replace wasteful fossil fuel use, we will create jobs for workers at Healthy Homes Maine in Litchfield, ReVision Energy in Portland, an appliance supplier, and the contractors we will hire for a new roof and other improvements.

How often can we create jobs for our neighbors, while also saving money?

On top of those savings, we will receive thousands in upfront rebates from the State for taking the time to do the right thing. One of these is the Home Energy Savings Program (HESP), which provides rebates of up to $4,500 for approved energy efficiency projects. For details, visit efficiencymaine.com or call 1-866-376-2463.

Another is called Property Assessed Clean Energy, or PACE. Thanks to a new law sponsored by Democratic Rep. Patsy Crockett of Augusta, municipalities can soon offer home energy financing through your property tax bill. This PACE financing means if you later sell your home, the debt as well as the savings will stay with the home. To work, PACE programs must be approved by individual towns.

Maine’s energy efficiency programs have had a strong jobs impact. According to Efficiency Maine Trust, the one-stop shop for State efficiency programs, 929 businesses and other organizations, with the help of 525 approved trade allies, completed 1,438 energy-efficiency projects last year. As a result, Maine businesses realized total savings of $49 million in avoided electrical costs alone.

To continue our energy savings, I sponsored a law last session that helped remove market barriers to efficiency, and leverage funds from emerging carbon markets, to begin to extend green jobs and savings beyond the current biennium. More needs to be done in this area.

Maine companies are now seeing benefits of another provision in the law, which let renewable-energy credits be included in long-term utilities contracts. Verso, a paper company and major employer in Bucksport, announced in early September that they had negotiated a contract with the Maine Public Utilities Commission. The contract saves money through an energy supply mix composed of capacity and renewable-energy credits, resulting from Verso’s conversion from fossil fuel to biomass. Wind companies, too, are eyeing this new provision with renewed interest in negotiating for Maine’s energy resources.

While efficiency is the surest step to green jobs and savings, we will also grow our economy through renewable technologies like biomass and wind. Manufacturing renewable-energy components, or researching and deploying tidal, offshore-wind, and other new renewables, are ways Maine can now advance to the cutting edge.

Rather than sending our money out of state and out of the country, let’s keep it here in Maine. Efficiency is not an expensive or imported luxury, nor does it mean turning off lights or carpooling. It means getting the same results with less effort — the essence of Yankee thrift.

Where there is waste, there is Yankee opportunity. According to the American Council for an Energy Efficient Economy, Maine could save $450 million per year simply by adopting efficiency standards already used in some other states.

By reducing waste and harnessing local energy, we make our economy stronger and more secure. Dollars continue to circulate in Maine’s economy, multiplying the benefits.

The balance sheet is clear. Clean energy and efficiency programs make for excellent dollars and sense. What we have begun, we must continue.