Last is no place to be when the topic is saving energy during an era of record prices.
Yet that’s where Maine is – last among New England states in the amount of energy saved by business, industrial and residential consumers.
Not surprisingly, Maine is also last in the amount of money it invests in energy-efficiency programs.
Lawmakers should support a proposal in LD 1931, “An Act to Encourage Energy Independence in Maine,” to double the rate Maine charges electric customers to fund efficiency programs.
Energy conservation is no longer just a personal virtue. Experts agree it’s the quickest and cheapest way to reduce energy bills and increase system reliability. Building more efficient power plants can take years. Saving electricity is as simple as changing light bulbs.
With rates charged by the regional electric authority projected to rise 20 percent in 2006, on the heels of a 15 percent jump in 2005, conservation is Maine’s first and best option.
LD 1931 proposes to add 0.15 cents per kilowatt hour to the existing 0.15 cent charge over the next three years. That’s what other New England states are spending now. The added revenue would dramatically increase the ability of Efficiency Maine to expand its successful existing programs. Last year, each dollar invested by the group produced $2.26 in energy savings. These programs saved enough to power 4,000 Maine households for a year.
Still, Public Advocate Stephen Ward’s suggestion to phase in the increase over five years is a good one. That would limit the bump per average customer to $2.32 a year.
Backers of the bill, including its sponsor, Sen. Philip Bartlett, D-Gorham, should also consider targeting programs to lower peak demand, which occurs in the summer. Because rates are set on peak demand, reducing it will cut everyone’s bill, including large industrial customers who are now grumbling rather loudly about the need to support increased efficiency.
However, the bill’s attempt to resolve the tension between transmission companies – which make money when they sell electricity – and conservation is potentially problematic.
We agree it’s tough to convince utilities to support conservation when it cuts into their bottom line. The bill calls for the Public Utilities Commission to propose a new compensation regime for review early next year. It would be better instead to study a range of potential alternatives.
LD 1931 would help Maine achieve other worthy goals, too, like cutting school energy bills and promoting energy-wise building construction. With a few tweaks, it deserves bipartisan support.