Funds Will Create Jobs, Help Businesses and Homeowners

By Ramona du Houx

April 21, 2010

Maine has received a $30 million federal grant from The Recovery Act to fund energy efficiency upgrades.

This spring Maine has received a $30 million federal grant from The Recovery Act to fund energy efficiency upgrades. This is in addition to a $42 million allocated already to MaineHousing for weatherization.

Recovery Act weatherization and retrofitting grants recognize the immediacy and priority Maine has given to these efforts. Eighty percent of Maine’s homes and businesses use oil for energy but much of that heat is lost due to inadequate insulation of old buildings.

“Maine is recognized as a national leader in our efforts to improve energy efficiency,” said Governor John Baldacci. “This significant grant will help break down the barriers to energy efficiency that many families face. There’s great potential for savings. But upfront costs make it difficult for too many families to make improvements. Through an innovative program at MaineHousing and the PUC, the federal grant will make energy upgrades more affordable.”

This $30 energy efficiency grant sets up sustainable revenue stream to fund weatherization and energy efficiency improvements with a revolving loan called the Maine Home Performance Fund.

The strategy uses grant funds to subsidize retrofits for the first three years of the program. The program will accurately measure energy savings and document reduced carbon emissions.

“In the short-term, the grant will create new, green jobs and give a boost to our construction industry. Over the long-term, Maine homes will use less energy, saving them money and reducing the amount of pollution. Families will see the benefits in their wallets and feel them when there’s less pollution in the air,” said the Governor.

The Maine Home Performance Fund will be accessible to residents in towns that have adopted Property Assessed Clean Energy (PACE) programs.

“The revolving loan fund and PACE allow us to address key barriers to homeowner investment in weatherization by reducing or eliminating the up-front costs to consumers,” said Dale McCormick, Director of MaineHousing.

Pacifically, the fund will allow homeowners to borrow money for energy efficiency improvements and then roll the loan payments into their property taxes. The loan stays with the home if it is sold. Many homeowners hesitate to borrow money to make energy efficiency improvements because they don’t know if they’ll own the house long enough to recover their investment. By attaching the loan to the property that should not be a concern.

“In most cases, the immediate energy savings will be more than the loan payments,” said Congresswoman Chellie Pingree. “Homeowners will save money from day one.”

Towns and cities first have to pass ordinances to allow the loans to be rolled into property taxes. This year the Maine Legislature established a law that allows municipalities to pass those ordinances, and a number of towns and cities are considering it.

Retrofitting businesses to become energy efficient has become big business and yields great energy savings. Currently, the Clinton Foundation is helping to retrofit the Empire State Building in New York City. Most businesses look at their bottom line to see where savings can happen; energy efficiency has become part of that solution. Retrofitted buildings are desirable.

Retrofitting will helps businesses and families save money that is currently goes to energy bills. Those savings can be invested back into Maine’s economy, improving the state’s quality of life.

Officials also hope that by making buildings more energy efficient the state’s business climate will improve, as more private investors will be attracted to the state. Currently the highest costs to businesses are energy and transportation.

“These grants showcase how weatherization- retrofitting is the best way to achieve substantial savings with energy efficiency, while creating jobs and making buildings more attractive to businesses,” said John Brautigam, Director of the Energy Programs Division at the Maine PUC. “The Maine Home Performance Fund will create a new financing option that will continue our efforts to break down barriers to homeowners and businesses who want to reduce energy consumption.”

The application for the grant was submitted by the Maine Public Utilities Commission’s Energy Programs Division in partnership with MaineHousing.

The competitive award was announced by Vice President Biden and is part of $452 million in Recovery Act funding through the U.S. Department of Energy awarded to 25 communities around the country. Under the Retrofit Ramp-Up initiative, communities, governments and nonprofit organizations will work together to pioneer innovative programs to support large-scale retrofits and make energy efficiency accessible to thousands of homeowners and businesses.

Maine received the second highest award in the competitive process.