NRCM news release
Augusta, ME – As members of the Maine Legislature’s Appropriations Committee consider a variety of bond proposals to send to voters, a poll of likely voters shows fully 70% support a proposed $30 million bond to improve the energy efficiency of 30,000 Maine homes.
LD 1341, sponsored by Senator Dawn Hill of York, would substantially accelerate efforts to help Maine people lower heating costs by improving the efficiency of their homes through measures such as insulation, reducing air leaks and upgrading the efficiency of heating equipment, including wood pellets, heat pumps, and traditional fuels.
Overall 70% of voters strongly or somewhat support the bond. The percentage of voters who “strongly support” the proposed bond was 42%, nearly three times those who strongly oppose (15%), which is an important indicator of how well the measure would actually perform on the ballot.
“Most policymakers probably already know that Mainers want to reduce heating bills, and believe improving the efficiency of our homes is a top priority,” said Dylan Voorhees, Clean Energy Director of the Natural Resources Council of Maine. “This poll shows that, given the chance, Mainers would vote for a bond to help pay for it. We have a very successful initiative going at Efficiency Maine and it’s time to bring these benefits to more Maine people.”
“We have spent a lot of time this session trying to avoid unintended cuts to Efficiency Maine programs. That has to be our top priority, but it’s really not enough,” said Senator Dawn Hill, the Assistant Senate Minority leader and a member of the Energy committee. “There are too many inefficient homes out there and too many Mainers struggling to heat affordably. Weatherizing more homes is one of the most cost-effective things we can do as a state to lower heating costs.”
Support for the bond was high across geographic and demographic categories, with majority support from every region, income group, age and political party. Support was particularly high among those over 65 years old, women, and those with a college education.
The bond proposes to direct $22 million to Efficiency Maine, to supplement a highly successful Home Energy Savings Program that has run for the last 18 months. This fiscal year (ending this month) Efficiency Maine expects over 10,000 homes to participate through a wide variety of home improvements. The program provides information and technical assistance, rebates and loans, and helps homeowners connect with qualified businesses that can provide services to improve home efficiency and install heating equipment.
“Weatherization is a common sense solution that has improved my home,” said Emily Vail, a teacher in Topsham who recently used Efficiency Maine’s Home Energy Savings Program. “Communities, individuals, businesses, and Efficiency Maine are all working together to generate real energy-saving results for people like me. I hope that more Mainers can save energy and money like I have thanks to this program.”
Due to previous carry forwards, the program budget this year is $10 million, however, without legislative action, the budget will shrink to $7.5 million next year.
If the typo in the omnibus efficiency law is corrected, and there are no cuts to Efficiency Maine, existing resources could help roughly 38,000 homes over the next four years. If the proposed bond were approved, it would add another 30,000 homes, for a total of 68,000 homes over the next four years. That is the equivalent of all the housing units in Lewiston, Auburn, Sanford, Waterville, Presque Isle, Skowhegan and Caribou combined. That would result in saving more than 100 million gallons of heating oil over the lifetime of those efficiency upgrades.
“Like a lot of Mainers, I have an old home that was a real burden to heat,” said Kathleen Meil, a homeowner in Rockport who participated in Efficiency Maine’s Home Energy Savings Program. “I would never have been able to invest in energy-saving improvements without the help of Efficiency Maine’s loans and rebates. Thanks to these programs, it takes less oil and less money to keep my home more comfortable. We have to work together to get these cost-effective solutions to homeowners like me before the next spike in heating oil prices comes or there will be enormous hardship around the state.”
Meil also works at Evergreen Home Performance, a Maine company that specializes in home energy evaluations and weatherization. “I know, both personally and professionally, that Efficiency Maine makes the difference between homeowners being able complete efficiency improvements versus putting them off or not affording them,” Meil said. “It’s time to intensify all of our efforts to improve the efficiency of Maine’s housing stock.”
The remaining $8 million would go to the Maine State Housing Authority, which works with the Community Action Programs throughout the state to cover the cost of weatherizing low-income homes (defined as those who qualify for heating assistance.) The bond would increase the number of households improved over the next four years from a likely 2,000 to nearly 3,600.
LD 1341 is co-sponsored by Senator Linda Valentino, ranking member of the Appropriations Committee and Senator David Woodsome and Rep. Mark Dion, the Republican and Democratic co-chairs of the Energy Committee.
“With their older, drafty homes, many Maine people struggle to afford to stay warm each winter, especially when oil prices rise, which they eventually will,” said Senator David Woodsome, co-chair of the Energy committee. “Finding resources to expand our efficiency programs is not easy, but it’s what we were sent to Augusta to do. I think this bond is a common sense solution.”
Like previous sessions, this Legislature has struggled with finding resources to support home efficiency initiatives. This year the Legislature has all but rejected redirecting funds collected and intended for other purposes, such as revenue from timber harvesting on public land or funds collected from electric ratepayers related to Maine Yankee.
“One of the reasons the omnibus energy bill was so significant was because it directed a portion of RGGI funds to be used for home efficiency on an ongoing basis,” said Voorhees. “Now that the programs are running and proving their success, we need to find new ways to accelerate our progress, and Maine people clearly agree.”