Governor John Baldacci  outlines the states 12million investment to keep Mainers warm this, 2008, winter. Photo by Ramona du Houx

October/November 2008

By Ramona du Houx

For citizens worried about energy costs there are state programs available to help. Efficiency Maine has a number of established programs for individuals and businesses that will help them reduce energy costs.

With their EnergyStar program they help residents change to energy efficient lights.

For businesses, they provide cash incentives and free, independent technical advice to help businesses purchase and install eclectic energy saving equipment. Already more than 940 incentives have been paid to businesses, 60 million kWh have been saved annually, and 38,986 tons of CO2 emissions have been reduced annually — which is equal to removing 7,655 cars from the road every year the energy efficient equipment is in place. For more information visit their website at: http://www.efficiencymaine.

For people who need clarification on programs and immediate heating assistance, just call 2-1-1. Requests for information will be filled within one business day and applicants for assistance or loan programs will have their requests processed within 30 days.

Now also by dialing 2-1-1, people will find the help they need to adequately feed their family. “Increased food prices go hand in hand with higher energy costs,” said Governor Baldacci. “While we are working on energy issues, we are mindful that we need to make sure families have access to healthy and nutritious foods.”

A new pilot program for farmers’ markets to accept food stamps with EBT cards is underway, and Maine’s Department of Health and Human Services’ request to increase food stamp benefits for LIHEAP eligible families, based on high energy costs, was granted for families who aren’t receiving the maximum benefit.

For the past several months, state government has been working to ensure the citizens in Maine have avenues to cut energy costs. People across the state need to know that there is help available now.

In August the governor announced a $12.6 million dollar plan to help lower energy costs, which included new investments in weatherization — including loans, low-income heating assistance, alternative modes of transportation, like extending Free Fares on Fridays with the state’s public bus system, voluntary alternate work schedules for State employees, and energy business development programs. Plus training programs, so there are more trained energy efficient auditors and installers.

New energy auditors and installers have begun training, with additional classes at universities and community colleges. If anyone is interested, they should make an enquiry at an educational institute or Maine State Housing.

Every homeowner or business owner is being encouraged to weatherize their residence. Heat leaks out through every opening, every crack or empty space in the wall of a home. Literally, energy funds are lost out the door, if the home is not weatherized.

The money invested today in weatherization will bring savings every year.

To help pay for the home energy efficient home improvements:

• The Finance Authority of Maine has set aside an additional $1 million in its Economic Recovery Loan Program to help businesses invest in energy conservation.

• Low-interest loans to middle-income families from Maine State Housing Authority have been made available. The low interest loans are designed to help families make their residents more energy efficient. Up to $30,000 per loan is available right now at below market rates of 3.95 percent.

854114330a13a356-housingloans“A home owner that uses 860 gallons of oil will spend $712 less per year with the 20 percent reduction in heating costs made by weatherizing their home,” said director of the State of Maine Housing, Dale McCormick. “It’s well worth the investment. We provide loans at low interest rates.”

Dale McKormic of Maine State Housing addresses the press. photo R du Houx

The state is helping the most at-risk citizens by:

• For families and individuals who qualify for heating assistance – the state has committed an additional $4 million dollars to increase aid. Congress recently allocated additional low-income heating (LIHEAP) funds.

• The state will allocate emergency funds in case there is a need from families in crisis during winter’s coldest months. This $3.25 million emergency fund will be available in January to help families who either participate in LIHEAP or are slightly above the entitlement threshold in the event of a fuel oil emergency.

The concern for neighbors who are finding it hard to cope with energy costs is palpable throughout communities, as the people of Maine look out for one another in times of need. There are agencies across the state that are working in partnership with the State to ensure no one freezes.

• The State is helping to support the volunteer efforts of local community groups. A master list of organizations is being built, listing these agencies from across the state, so people who need help can be matched up with those who want to give help.

• A Web site is being created where anyone can find the energy related programs available in their community.

• In a public-private partnership, $3 million will be invested into making homes more energy efficient and repairing the furnaces for families at risk.

• At least 2,000 KeepMEwarm kits are being distributed to homeowners. The kits, that have been distributed as part of the governor’s KeepMEwarm program for the past four years, have calking materials, plastic for sealing windows, energy efficient light bulbs, and other practical insulation materials.

• Fundraising efforts have begun for KeepMEwarm funds. The Obama campaign held events throughout the state in October for this fund that allocates money to people who need fuel assistance during the winter.

• Over 500,000 brochures that outline the help available are being distributed with DVDs.

State government is leading by example with its efforts to cut energy costs. In addition to programs already established:

• The Department of Transportation is increasing the use of the carpooling program, GoMaine, and, studies have begun on the state’s Park & Ride network and how to improve access to rail services.

• The governor hosted a short home energy improvement session via the Community College System to demonstrate simple ways to make homes more energy efficient.

• Voluntary alternate work schedules for State employees are underway.

“By giving workers the flexibility, we hope to take cars off the road, reducing the demand for gasoline and saving all families money,” said the governor.

Dick Davis, the State’s public advocate said his agency has already begun implementing alternative work schedules. “Some employees are working ten-hour days for four days, and some work at home part of each week. As a result, they aren’t driving back and forth to work as much. We’ve found it lessens stress, as well as saving gas money. It’s been good for moral,” said Davis. “We are contemplating going to a four-day workweek for the entire office with one person always maintaining the phone, while others work from home or attend public hearings. Of course our scheduling would be dependent on the needs of the people. It’s estimated that we would save on electric and heating by 25 percent.”

The governor’s long-term goal is to reduce the consumption of oil and gasoline and to free our economy from foreign oil. He said, “During the next legislative session, starting in December, I am going to propose a comprehensive plan that moves us along that path so that we can — at the end of ten years — be energy independent. Being less dependent on oil will strengthen our economy, protect our national security, improve our environment, and most importantly provide for economic development — jobs with benefits — for our citizens.”

Democratic leaders working on additional energy plans —

Democratic legislative leaders addressed the energy issue by creating a task force to review current resources and options, to determine what may require immediate legislative action when they reconvene in December.

This bipartisan group of legislative leaders will be asked to review current options for Maine people, hear what is lacking, and develop an agenda for action.

“We are very happy to see that the governor has been able to fill in these programs within existing resources,” said House Majority Leader Hannah Pingree. “We want people to know that their legislators are eager to assist with the heating crisis that is coming this winter, and it’s our goal to figure out exactly what we have and what we need right now, so we’re ready to roll on day one with a reasoned and informed plan for this winter and beyond.”

Senate Majority Leader Libby Mitchell added, “We want a well-thought-out plan that will help us now in the short term and as we move forward in future heating seasons to come.”

Photo: Rep. Pingree discusses heating issues with Rep. Berry

This Presiding Officers’ Heat and Energy Emergency Task Force of 13 members has been holding meetings and will hear testimony from the public.

“Our governor and legislative leadership have shown that they mean business about making sure Maine is never again faced with as challenging a winter as the one approaching us,” said Rep Seth Berry. “Sen. Bartlett and Reps. Hinck and McDonald are three of our best experts on energy issues and will bring great perspectives to the task force. We will come in next session and truly hit the ground running for the people of Maine.”