Sept 10th, 2011 – Gov. Paul LePage’s weekly radio address on Aug. 20 highlighted the difficulty many Mainers face this coming heating season. Heating oil prices are above $3.50 per gallon in much of the state — more than $4 gallon if you lock in the price for the winter — and the average Maine home uses 1,000 gallons per year.
As LePage put it, “Many Mainers are worried about how they are going to make it,” adding that “leadership is necessary to ensure that Maine citizens can make it through the winter.”
At Efficiency Maine, we share the governor’s concern, and we think we have identified a key piece of the puzzle: home energy upgrades. Last year, the Efficiency Maine Trust used federal funds from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 to spur more than 2,400 Maine homeowners to conduct whole-house energy upgrades including new insulation, air sealing, and heating system upgrades. An additional 1,000 homes are finishing their upgrades just now. On average, homeowners participating in our Home Energy Savings Program (HESP) will lower their heating bills by 41 percent ($1,400-$1,600 per year), and their homes are now safer and warmer, too.
The effective price of the energy saved from these projects comes to $1.18 per gallon, after factoring in the customer’s home improvement costs and the incentives provided by Efficiency Maine. That price is locked in for as long as the energy upgrades last, which can be more than 25 years. Participants in our program are collectively saving the equivalent of about 1 million gallons of oil per year for the life of their homes. This is a low-cost, long-term solution that works no matter what kind of fuel they use.
Last year, we were fortunate to have federal funding to help customers pay for these upgrades. Those funds have been exhausted. In their place, the trust is offering a new financing product known as Maine PACE Loans, which are available in more than 90 municipalities that have opted in to the program. These low-cost, long-term loans are easy to apply for and can help customers borrow up to $15,000 to pay for the initial investment in energy upgrades. (For more information, visit www.efficiencymaine.com/pace.)
Such programs from Efficiency Maine rely principally on homeowners to pay for the improvements. They are not a substitute for federal heating assistance programs (LIHEAP) to help low-income Mainers. But whole-house weatherizing, with help from Efficiency Maine programs (or, for low-income customers, additional programs such as the Weatherization Assistance Program, administered by MaineHousing), should be the goal for all homes in Maine. It is a great way to supplement the LIHEAP funds for those in need. It helps people at all income levels stretch their heating budgets farther, and it reduces the amount of funds we need to ask of the federal government to help keep our citizens safe and warm each winter.
Efficiency Maine’s programs are not limited to heating. For customers of all income levels, we offer one of the most successful and far-reaching programs in the United States to help customers lower their lighting costs. Last year, in partnership with hundreds of hardware and retail stores, we promoted the sale of nearly 2 million compact fluorescent light bulbs. That’s enough to put four bulbs in every home in Maine and save $25 per year on the electric bill.
Energy efficiency is our lowest-cost energy resource, and there’s plenty of it. If we all make smart purchases the next time we buy a light or appliance or fix up the house, we will save money for years to come and limit our state’s need to ask for federal assistance.
We invite all customers to participate in our programs and learn more about how they can save energy and money. Together we can continue to help make needed investments in our economy, save and create thousands of jobs, and continue to provide what the governor calls the “leadership necessary to ensure that Maine citizens can make it through the winter.”