By Gene Lynch II, Special to the BDN
Bangor Daily News op-ed
The Aroostook Medical Center, or TAMC, is the northern member of the Eastern Maine Healthcare Systems network, located in Presque Isle. TAMC is the largest provider of health care in our region and the largest employer in all of Northern Maine. We are committed to providing high-quality health care at a reasonable cost while also being good stewards of our environment.
Hospitals are energy-intensive for a number of reasons: around-the-clock facilities operation, heating and cooling of large amounts of space, production of steam for processes such as sterilization, and the need for an abundance of lighting. Striving to deliver the best possible care for all our patients, we use a variety of new technologies; thus, an ever-growing number of computers, smart pumps and various types of diagnostic equipment result in additional energy demands.
TAMC, like many others across the state, has relied on Efficiency Maine programs to help us make improvements that reduce our operating costs and our carbon footprint. Without this source of funding, many of these cost-saving projects would not take place because it takes too long to realize the return on investment or the capital needs are beyond our budgets.
Over the past four years, TAMC has re-focused efforts to reduce energy consumption, waste and pollution. We have reduced electricity consumption over the last four years by nearly 20 percent and led the way in the state by installing Maine’s first compressed natural gas-fired heating plant. The energy saving measures and fuel conversion work resulted in hundreds of thousands of dollars in annual energy savings while also reducing our annual carbon dioxide emissions by more than 1,500 metric tons, which lessens our impact on the environment.
Efficiency Maine has been a critical partner in some of these endeavors. There are many examples of how funding generated through the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, or RGGI, is benefiting Maine and Mainers by helping us to control health care costs while also reducing climate-changing emissions. Our collaboration with Efficiency Maine has enabled us to make several improvements to our facility: converting to LED lighting throughout the site, including corridors and common areas; installing timers and sensors that control lighting and turn down air handling units during unoccupied periods; and adding variable frequency drives and premium motors to more efficiently operate equipment. These most recent projects done in partnership with Efficiency Maine are anticipated to reduce our electrical cost by an additional $89,000 annually.
The Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative is a cooperative, market-based effort among nine Northeastern states to reduce climate-changing carbon emissions from the biggest single source: our power plants. Since 2009, Maine has been using funds generated by the RGGI program for energy efficiency projects, and the results have been dramatic. Maine’s large and small businesses along with homeowners already have saved more than $250 million in energy costs. The RGGI funds have leveraged tens of millions of dollars in additional private investment in Maine’s economy. This concerted effort has created hundreds of good jobs, helped keep our businesses competitive and helped keep more money in our state, benefiting all Maine residents.
Yet despite this undeniable success, there is legislation under consideration at the State House in Augusta that would cut RGGI funding aimed at helping large energy users such as TAMC and other hospitals make energy efficiency investments by 80 percent. The cost to Maine businesses and institutions from the missed opportunity to make these investments would be more than $100 million in increased energy bills.
Furthermore, RGGI is seen as a model for other states across the U.S. as they prepare to implement the EPA’s Clean Power Plan. Because of RGGI, Maine is in a position to easily meet the targets set in EPA’s Plan.
The Clean Power Plan sets the first national limits ever on carbon pollution from power plants, which are the nation’s largest source of this pollution. The plan is constantly under attack from U.S. senators in coal-producing states and their allies. We are grateful for the supportive votes of Maine Sens. Susan Collins and Angus King, which are crucial to preserving this much-needed initiative. Though a recent Supreme Court decision has delayed the implementation of the Clean Power Plan, we are confident the courts will ultimately uphold the plan.
While we have made great strides, there is still much work to do. TAMC certainly will continue to look for opportunities to partner with Efficiency Maine to achieve more energy savings. We encourage our legislature and congressional delegation to continue to embrace and support RGGI funding and the model it provides for the country to protect our public health and our environment.
Gene Lynch II is immediate past chairperson of The Aroostook Medical Center Board of Trustees.