AUGUSTA, Maine — Energy prices are dropping, but energy and environmental advocates say that doesn't mean that homeowners and business owners should defer heating improvements. In fact, they say Mainers can use some of the money they save on oil to pay for an energy audit or install new, efficient heating systems.
For consumers in some parts of the state, heating oil prices are hitting their lowest point in 10 years at around $1.70 a gallon. That means big savings for home and business owners who rely on oil for heat.
Richard Burbank, president of Evergreen Home Performance in Rockland, which conducts home energy audits, says low oil prices should not be a reason to put off energy efficiency improvements.
"When the storm is on you, you're just kind of hunkered down trying to survive — so when the storm is away, hopefully you kind of make improvements so that you're prepared for the next time," Burbank says.
Mainers interested in home energy audit services are eligible to receive cash incentives and low-interest financing options under the Efficiency Maine Trust, which is finalizing a three-year plan to implement initiatives to help consumers save money on fuel.
Burbank was among a group of energy efficiency advocates who turned out at an Augusta press event in support of the Efficiency Maine Trust.
"Because of the fact that Efficiency Maine programs have been around so long, people are accustomed to that idea that, 'I don't have to just take it as it comes, I have an old house and it's a lost cause,'" Burbank says. "They realize they can be proactive. There will be some people that are just driven by, 'I need to cut my heating costs by 50 percent,' it's got to have a certain payback and what have you, but usually their wife is too cold to say no to the proposal, so they move forward anyway."
Maine law requires Efficiency Maine to develop a plan that seeks to capture all of the cost-effective energy-efficiency savings opportunities that it can achieve.
In 2013, the Legislature passed an omnibus energy bill that clarified this standard, and capped ratepayer contributions at $60 million per year. And this year, after a typographical error in the wording of the law prompted a Maine Public Utilities Commission decision to limit efficiency spending to less than $25 million, the Legislature voted unanimously, over the governor's veto, to reaffirm spending of up to $60 million, provided it meets the cost-effectiveness test.
Over the next three years, Efficiency Maine Executive Director Michael Stoddard says his agency will spend $45 million for electricity savings programs and $15 million for oil savings programs.
Meeting with stakeholders in Augusta to receive public comment on the agency's draft plan, Stoddard says the programs will remain largely as they are in the final proposal that will be sent to the PUC for approval.
"We need to go back and double and triple check our analysis of the benefits and the costs," Stoddard says. "We've talked about the costs, but we didn't talk about the benefits. We're estimating that this will lower energy bills in Maine by more than $1 billion over the full life of the equipment we forecast that will be installed through these three years of programs."
Dylan Voorhees, clean energy director for the Natural Resources Council of Maine, says although Mainers have made great strides in reducing energy costs, many homes are still in need of weatherization.
"So what we're urging Efficiency Maine to do as it develops a plan is to put together a plan that will really maximize the savings for homeowners and businesses," he says.
Voorhees says the Efficiency Maine programs, combined with lower projected energy costs, should provide homeowners with an incentive to make improvements this year.