About 90,000 Mainers will get a one-time, $90 break on their electric bill if the Public Utilities Commission approves a proposal from Gov. Mills and the Office of the Public Advocate.

And they should. Electricity rates are way up – as are the costs of many other necessities – and those rising costs are hitting hardest the Mainers least able to absorb them.

But once that $90 is gone – and it’ll be gone quickly – the customer will be left just as vulnerable to future cost increases, whether they come through rising natural gas prices or a particular cold winter.

And their home will remain, in all likelihood, unchanged in its contribution to the global climate crisis.

Funding funneled into weatherization and new heating systems, however, reduces heating costs immediately – and then for the lifetime of whatever is put in place. Decades.

Of course, too many Mainers don’t have the luxury of long-term thinking when it comes to keeping the lights on. For them, the $90 credit, which the PUC will review this week, will help ease the burden of a Jan. 1 rate increase. The increase is adding $30 per month to the average bill, mostly the result of an increase in the price of the natural gas that produces a lot of Maine’s electricity.


But Maine should also be trying to reduce the number of households who’ll be hit by such price increases in the future. The Mills administration cited this concern in its proposal, saying that the $90 credit was meant to only partially address the “much bigger and long-term structural problem” of expensive-to-heat homes, and that the PUC should look for ways to relieve the burden on low-income customers in the long term.

One way is through weatherization, which would lower the amount of fuel a particular house needs to get through the winter, or the use of lower-cost heating options like heat pumps, which also cuts back on the use of fossil fuels.

It’s a process a lot of homes, here in Maine and around the country, will have to go through if the country is going to meaningfully take a bite out of climate change. So far, it’s going way too slowly.

In 2020, the federal weatherization program, with funding of $310 million, did work on 35,000 homes, preventing more than 2 million metric tons of CO2 and saving the average customer $283 a year on energy costs.

That’s a good step. But at that rate, it’ll take more than a century to update all the low-income housing in the country. More federal money was earmarked for the program last year, and even more may be included in the reconciliation bill now under negotiation in Congress.

Gov. Mills late last year said she would use $25 million in federal funds to update low- and moderate-income homes, providing up to 90 percent of the cost with the potential to finance the remainder.


Not only does that reduce energy costs and emissions, but it also supports local jobs.

Which brings us to a final note on weatherization programs. Though Maine has had one for years, it’s been underused – not only because people who are eligible and a good fit often don’t apply, but also because of the shortage of contractors who can complete the work.

So it’s important that efforts underway to expand the state’s building-trades workforce are successful, just as it’s crucial to make sure everyone eligible for the program understands that it’s available.

That particularly goes for landlords with low-income tenants, who are harmed the most from rising energy costs, and for whom more energy-efficient housing can make the most difference.

(Editor’s note: An earlier version of this editorial incorrectly stated the average customer savings for the federal weatherization program. It has been corrected.)

Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or login first for digital access. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.