Andy Meyer is the residential program manager at Efficiency Maine, an energy agency that has been helping Mainers navigate the world of light bulbs, weatherization and alternative energies since 2002. He’s been there for five years (his previous gigs include 14 years at Idexx Laboratories Inc.). We called him up to talk about the viability of heat pumps in Maine and whether he toes the efficiency line at home. Oh, and how to get the best deal on light bulbs.

COCKTAIL TIME: Efficiency Maine seems kind of mysterious. What exactly do you do? “Efficiency Maine runs the state’s energy efficiency and renewable energy programs, that is my cocktail party answer,” Meyer said. How does that go over? “They usually go and get another drink.” If they show any interest in that, “I corner them by the drinks,” he said. “And I explain that we offer rebates, directories, financing.”

COME ON-A MY HOUSE? No, he will not. “We don’t actually go and put the insulation in people’s attics,” Meyer said. “We are matchmakers, that’s what we do. We play matchmakers between homeowners, contractors and the financing.”

HIS JOB DESCRIPTION: He oversees a handful of programs that serve 30,000 customers a year. That’s the retail light program, the appliance rebate (buy that energy efficient water heater and get a fat rebate), programs that work with landlords and low-income households, and the natural gas programs. “I don’t write rebate checks,” he said. But Efficiency Maine does, processing close to 50,000 rebates annually, he said. “We touch a lot of homes and businesses.”

LIGHTS OUT: If you’re ever been nervous about buying those cheaper compact fluorescent lamps or light-emitting diodes (better knowns as CFLs and LEDs) – you know, did they fall off a truck? – check for a sticker next to them. If it says, “special pricing brought to you by Efficiency Maine,” know that you’re getting a major deal brokered by Meyer, a national liaison and retailers. “If a retailer agrees to mark it down, we will reimburse them,” Meyer said. “Say, when you buy a 10-pack of CFL, we give them a check for $17.50.” Efficiency Maine works with about 300 stores across the state, and subsidizes our energy efficient light bulb purchases to the tune of about $5 million a year.

EVERYBODY’S DOING IT: Maine is a leader in adopting CFL technology. Averaged out, every family in the state bought four CFLs last year. The energy savings from CFLs are about $50 over the six- to 10-year life span of the bulb, and Meyer said they pay for themselves in one to four weeks. Not everyone has adapted. When people jump on a bargain on, say, $2 incandescent bulbs, Meyer said, “they’ll make a $49 mistake.” With the promise of a coming spike in electricity rates, buying CFLs or LEDs can help ward off the pain of the increases.


CASA MEYER: What about at Meyer’s house? Is every bulb a CLF or LED? “You are going to out me here but I will be honest, we do use the incandescent lights to heat our chicken coop,” he said. “They mostly put out heat and we mostly need to keep the poor girls warm at night.”

EMPTY COFFERS? Meyer oversees the rebate program, the kind that tempts you to replace an old electric water heater with something more efficient. The new heater may cost $800, but you could get $300 back in rebates. If you call Efficiency Maine, they might issue a warning that rebates are contingent on availability; coming from a state and federal kitty that is refilled annually, the rebate pool might run out. Does it really? “It has and very possibly could.”

CHASING CHEAP: Meyer cautions against homeowners making energy decisions that revolve around the cheapest fuel of the day, whether it’s oil, natural gas or propane. It is tempting, he said. “And I personally have done it, which I am embarrassed to say.” But he wants people to prioritize using energy efficiently. “Chasing today’s latest cheap fuel is a tough way to save money,” he said.

WARM FOR HEAT PUMPS: In terms of exciting technologies, Meyer is bullish on heat pumps, which heat and cool by pulling heat from the air or ground (they also work in reverse, cooling air). Because of how low our winter temperatures get, many people are suspicious of this technology, essentially a new spin on the air-conditioning approach. But the equipment has made big strides in recent years, Meyer said. “Three years ago, heat pumps didn’t work in Maine, and today they run at close to 400 percent efficiency,” he said. “And they run at negative-15 degrees Fahrenheit.” How about combining them with different technologies, like a traditional furnace? “That’s a very smart thing to do actually,” he said. Popularity of heat pumps is soaring. Four years ago when Meyer ran a heat pump program, Efficiency Maine gave out 55 rebates for heat pumps in an 18-month period. This September alone? 1,000 heat pump rebates. “This is revolutionary.”

SUFFICIENT MAINE: What happens when every Maine household is hip to better light bulbs and such? Is Efficiency Maine’s job done? “We have an expression that we use, that we try to pick the low-hanging fruit.” Meaning? Meyer points out that LED bulbs used to cost about $40 each. Now they cost about $7. No one used heat pumps. Now they do. More and better technologies come along, meaning that Efficiency Maine isn’t likely to drive itself out of business. “I believe that low-hanging fruit grows back,” Meyer said.

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