April 1, 2012

Pumps fuel interest in electric heat

Gov. LePage's administration says the new technology will cut energy costs. Skeptics fear a drain on the power grid.

By Tux Turkel tturkel@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

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Electric heat can be efficient, expert says


Storage heat is getting a trial run this winter in central Maine, where a couple dozen have been installed. Madison Electric Works, the local power company, has teamed up with Biddeford-based Thermal Energy Storage of Maine to make them available. A mid-sized unit, which could supplement an oil furnace, costs roughly $3,000 and delivers heat at a price equivalent to $2.20 a gallon for oil. Local lenders are offering reduced-rate loans for the program.

Storage heat could become widely available under a plan likely to be proposed by Central Maine Power. CMP favors storage heat over heat pumps, said John Carroll, CMP spokesman.

"It potentially makes good use of renewable resources, and good use of the excess capacity in the transmission and distribution system," he said. "We're not anxious to see technology that increases peak load."

Environmental groups also share a concern about increasing electricity use.

"The impact on transmission and distribution prices overall need to be considered if Maine puts more pressure on the grid in the summer," Beth Nagusky, Maine director of Environment Northeast, said in her public testimony before lawmakers.

Dylan Voorhees, clean energy director at the Natural Resources Council of Maine, takes issue with the idea that heat pumps are more cost-effective than weatherization. A home insulation program run last year through Efficiency Maine cut heating demand by an average of 35 percent, he said, at an oil-cost equivalent of $1.15 a gallon.

A key question for the electric heat pilot program, Voorhees said, is what does it cost, overall, to save a gallon of oil?

Staff Writer Tux Turkel can be contacted at 791-6462 or at:



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