By Evan Belanger, BDN Staff
Bangor Daily News news story
BANGOR, Maine — Reduced energy costs could be in store for many residents as a result of an endeavor to craft a comprehensive citywide energy policy launched Wednesday by the Bangor City Council’s Finance Committee.
“Basically, the end goal of the plan will be how can we reduce energy costs for every resident in Bangor if possible,” said Councilor Josh Plourde, who proposed the plan in conjunction with Councilor Sean Faircloth.
Without dissent, the committee directed city staff to work with the council to develop a comprehensive energy policy that would encourage residents and businesses to complete energy-efficiency upgrades.
“The best way for families to cut down their energy bills is to simply use less fuel,” Plourde wrote in a memorandum to the council.
With several different options available, the plan may call for the city to be directly involved with programs such as low-interest loans for energy-efficiency improvements.
The city also could serve as a facilitator, working to maximize existing energy-efficiency programs such as the weatherization program offered by the nonprofit group Penquis and programs offered by Efficiency Maine, according to city officials.
As part of the proposal, Faircloth proposed a $1.2 million municipal bond that would allow the city to work with local banks to offer residents interest-free loans to pay for improvements that would reduce their home heating bills such as weatherization, solar panels or boiler upgrades and conversions.
With about 5,150 owner-occupied residences in the city, Faircloth predicted as many as 15 to 20 percent may participate.
That’s significantly more than the market penetration offered through existing low-income programs, going a long way to modernize the city’s aged housing stock, which is one of the oldest in the country, according to Faircloth.
By design, the program would not be income contingent, allowing homeowners who do not qualify for low-income programs such as CDBG to participate.
“I think serving those kinds of citizens and, frankly, over the long run, putting money in their pockets is a tax cut by a different name,” he said.
According to Faircloth, the primary goal of the loan program would be to make the city’s housing stock more attractive by modernizing it, encouraging existing residents to stay and nonresidents to locate in the city by reducing winter heating costs.
Other options included in Plourde’s proposal for a comprehensive energy policy include promotion or creation of programs that would encourage residents to complete upgrades such as replacing insulation and windows or installing heat pumps and other high-efficiency appliances.
For some households, options could include on-site energy production through solar panels, small-scale wind turbines or biomass furnaces, according to Plourde.
Plourde said his goal is for the plan to include residences, businesses and municipal buildings.
While no councilors objected to exploring the creation of a comprehensive energy policy, concerns were raised about the potential for the city to be directly involved through programs such as interest-free loans.
“We would be asking all Bangor property taxpayers to partially subsidize opportunities for a few,” noted Councilor David Nealley during the meeting.
After researching energy policies in other cities, the group of councilors, city staff and other interested parties is expected to return in October with more specifics and a development timeline.
Follow Evan Belanger on Twitter at @evanbelanger.