March 10, 2013

Our View: Efficiency Maine has plan to save state money

Rather than make power more expensive, the program lowers bills by helping people use less.

What if Maine could build a power plant that produced electricity at a quarter of the rate home customers now pay?

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Efficiency Maine encourages investments in insulation and other projects to lower energy costs for homes and businesses.

2009 File Photo/John Patriquin

What if this power plant could satisfy 16 percent of the state's energy demand? Wouldn't that let Maine consumers keep more of their money? Wouldn't that make Maine businesses more competitive nationally?

That cheap power is also clean and is available right now in every corner of the state. It's called "efficiency."

Using less electricity, gas or oil may not sound as exciting as harnessing tides, wind or the sun's rays, but it has proven to be the cleanest and cheapest energy available on the current market.

Upgrades made by Maine businesses and homeowners last year with help from the Efficiency Maine trust saved electricity that would have cost 7.4 cents a kilowatt-hour. The savings would be the same as buying electricity at 1.27 cents per kwh, or buying heating oil for $1.05 per gallon, instead of $3.74 on the current market.

Investing in energy efficiency has been an easy call in every state in the region, regardless of local politics. Unfortunately, it has become politicized in Augusta because of the way the program is funded.

Efficiency Maine gets most of its budget from a surcharge on electricity bills. Critics claim that Maine's above-average power costs result in part from a well-meaning program that makes electricity more expensive.

But the flaw to that logic is that it looks only at the cost and not the benefit. The price per kilowatt-hour is not the only important number on an electric bill. The number of hours used also counts, and if an investment in efficient light fixtures or air sealing a building reduces the amount of power used, that lowers the bill.

If energy conservation is looked at as an alternative source of energy, it is an easy program to favor by people who are concerned with the high cost of energy in the state.

What's also important is that energy conservation projects keep more money in Maine. They not only save dollars from leaving the state to pay for oil and gas, but they also provide employment for in-state contractors who would do the work.

Efficiency Maine's three-year plan has been approved by the Public Utilities Commission and is headed to the State House for approval by the Legislature and governor.

With so much to fight about, members of both parties should seize on this as an policy area where no fighting is necessary. For the good of Maine, we should make these investments.


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