The place to go for information and help on energy efficiency

By Ramona du Houx

March 21, 2010

Ever wonder if there might be a place where you can find help changing your home or business into an energy-efficient environment that can save money? The problem for many people is where to start. With the creation of the Efficiency Maine Trust, they need look no further.

In an exclusive interview John Brautigam, Efficiency Maine’s director, explained more about the Efficiency Maine Trust.

“It will be the one-stop-shopping portal of the state for energy efficiency. We need to remove some of the barriers for people, like financing, and make it less confusing. In the past, you had to go to an auditor, then someone who specializes in installing windows, then someone else for installation, and so on. We make it all in one package, so you don’t have to go to a lot of different contractors. That makes it more appealing.”

Efficiency Maine is working with contractors, training, and certification. They recommend qualified building contractors who provide a whole-house approach for energy-efficient retrofits, and low-interest loans.

“We’re trying to coordinate it all for people. It’s a balance, because we need to insist on quality control of workmanship. We need to have good supervisors in place for testing and verification of energy surveys. So we have real proof of energy savings for people.”
Efficiency Maine promotes electrical energy efficiency and helps Maine residents and businesses reduce energy costs, while improving the environment. Soon their mission will be broader to include more weatherization initiatives, alternative energy — including alternative fuel usage — and better public access to energy-efficient programs. To accomplish these goals, as of July 1, 2010, Energy Efficiency Maine is being spun off as a separate state agency called the Efficiency Maine Trust.

“That’s when the programs get officially transferred over. The idea is to bring under one roof the dedicated programs for energy efficiency, including environmental and others the Legislature wants to put there, so that it’s coordinated and centralized. The existing programs run by Efficiency Maine and the Energy and Carbon Savings Trust will be grouped together and put under the control of the Trust. Maine Housing programs for low-income citizens who need help will continue, and the Department of Environmental Protection will continue the REGGI carbon-related programs.

“The Trust will develop a three-year plan, providing program design, planning, and implementation strategies for all energy-efficiency and alternative-energy resources, for all fuel types. It’s a huge effort.”

That plan is to:

• Weatherize 100 percent of Maine residences and 50 percent of Maine businesses by 2030
• Achieve 30 percent electric energy savings, 30 percent natural gas savings and 20 percent heating fuels savings by 2020
• Capture all cost-effective, energy-efficiency resources available for electric and natural gas ratepayers
• Reduce greenhouse gas emissions from heating and cooling loads in Maine to at least 10 percent below 1990 levels by 2020, and ultimately 75 to 85 percent below 2003 levels

Already changes have been made to begin to reach these goals, assisted in a large part by The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act stimulus funds.

“We have received $37 million in federal stimulus money for energy-efficiency programs, which gets divided out into residential, commercial, and industrial. We’ve started an initiative for all homeowners to receive a rebate of up to $3,000 if they weatherize their homes. We’re making grants now and developing more programs to assist businesses. We’ve been able to extend solar and thermal rebates as well as wind-energy incentives. Last October, we started a program that offers appliance rebates.

“We’ve increased our outreach to individual businesses. We have subsidies for energy-efficiency efforts. We call it “market transformation.” The idea is for businesses to realize that becoming energy efficient is not an obstacle; it should be a goal, because in the long run businesses and citizens will save money, and it’s good for the environment.”

The Efficiency Maine Business Program provides cash incentives and free, independent technical advice. In 2007, Efficiency Maine programs helped home and business owners save 87,404 megawatt hours of energy, worth an estimated $101 million in lifetime, economic benefits.

According to Brautigam, the best way in Maine to become more energy efficient and save money on energy costs is to weatherize.

“We’re trying to understand what gets people through the barriers they may have to energy efficiency, so they can make sound investments in their homes.

“We are used to turning up the heat until we feel comfortable. Most houses in Maine are poorly insulated, and are not airtight. There are simple things we just can’t see, but if you are tested for them the reality is obvious. If you could do a basic test for energy efficiency, you would understand how the house is leaking and how much insulation you do or don’t have behind your walls. Insulation saves money the first year, which could add up to being a quarter of your heating bill. And now anyone in Maine is eligible to receive a rebate of up to $3,000 from the state, plus $1,500 from federal weatherization incentives. So if you make a $10,000 investment, almost half is paid for with incentives.”

The director believes the state’s energy goals are obtainable in time and with more public education.

“It’s important to start down that path. We’re gaining momentum with federal funding. There is a lot of support from the Department of Energy, because of the governor’s leadership and the Legislature following suit. The DOE is convinced these are long-term goals that are important for the state and country. So we are expecting more grants. We will be increasing marketing as well. We have a number of public education programs and tools for the public to use.”

One major initiative is implementing PowerSleuth — a set of standards-based energy education curriculum materials, developed by Efficiency Maine for students in grades 4–8. For adults, Kill A Watt monitors can be checked out of libraries to plug into electrical outlets with an appliance, to obtain a readout on how much electricity the appliance uses.
Educating the public in energy efficiency is a major objective, in order to release Maine from being oil dependent. The state is the most reliant upon oil usage.

“Although the stimulus money provides funds that we’ve never had before, it will run out. It’s not enough to achieve our long-term goals. Government can’t pay for all of this. It’s a good thing to do, even if there weren’t any incentives. We have to make sure people understand that.”

As a state legislator, Brautigam served on the Energy and Utilities Committee. He was the sponsor on the governor’s solar power bill and spoke out about a regional electric grid. The representative introduced the first bill in the state on smart power meters.

“Smart power meters are now on the national stage. Working in energy efficiency allows me to pursue goals for the environment, which is a passion of mine. Efficiency Maine was a good place to move after the Legislature. We’re delivering great programs with a limited staff of 14 people who put their all in to every project. We do more for less. They’re a fantastic team.”

As for the future:

“Once the Recovery Act funds are spent, we don’t know what will happen next. We want to build up a great record with that money, to show people what can be achieved with energy efficiency. It’s really important to show the public the results from this first phase. The more people see the results, the more they will want our programs to continue, and the closer we will be towards that 20-year goal.”

Efficiency Maine is funded by electricity consumers and administered by the Maine Public Utilities Commission.