A bill in Congress would offer funding for jobs and repairs that would have a long-lasting effect.
by Joshua Wojcik
ABOUT THE AUTHOR Joshua Wojcik is president of Upright Frameworks LLC, based in Wilton.
WILTON — As the owner of a company that offers energy audits and weatherization services, I work with Mainers every day who are looking for ways to make their homes more efficient so they can reduce their energy costs.
The challenge for businesses like mine is not finding homeowners interested in saving money. The challenge is for homeowners trying to find money to finance the work.
And there is much work to be done. Maine has the oldest housing stock in the country and 80 percent of our homes are heated with oil.
Investing in energy independence makes good business sense in the 21st century. We can create good-paying, green-skilled jobs for thousands of Mainers by retrofitting our homes and businesses for energy efficiency and renewable energy.
Building owners benefit from lower operating costs and the economy benefits because money spent on efficiency and renewable energy creates good-paying jobs that cannot be exported.
Maine took a substantial step toward helping homeowners this year when it passed landmark legislation establishing the Efficiency Maine Trust.
The Trust is charged with creating a consumer-friendly, one-stop-shopping process that gives people access to grants, low-interest loans, reputable contractors and information about job and training opportunities in the clean energy sector. The new investments in weatherization and home efficiency that the Efficiency Maine Trust is charged with making are funded largely through the federal Recovery Act.
The act makes available about $9 million for middle-class Mainers over the next two years, and about $43 million for low-income Mainers. This is enough to kick-start the work, but not nearly enough to get the job done.
But there is another opportunity for Maine. Congress is working on a clean-energy plan that could generate thousands of jobs in Maine, lessen our dependence on oil and reduce our carbon footprint.
The current plan invests in new energy efficiency and renewable energy technologies and services.
These investments will create new businesses and job opportunities while cutting energy bills for Maine people. Most importantly, it could inject much needed federal revenue into the Trust, helping ensure we continue to create green, clean jobs right here at home.
Efficiency upgrades are labor intensive, requiring skilled weatherization technicians, insulation installers and electricians. These are all good-paying jobs that cannot be exported to other countries.
Sen. Olympia Snowe has been a longtime advocate of the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program, which provides much-needed heating oil assistance for Maine residents.
Sen. Susan Collins worked very hard to negotiate additional weatherization funds in the economic stimulus package.
Both senators “get” the importance of energy independence – and the serious need to invest in energy efficiency and renewable energy in our homes and businesses.
Their leadership on this issue will be critical as negotiations and horse-trading get under way while the Senate leadership works to craft a bill that will pass.
Maine’s economic future is directly tied to its energy future. A statewide weatherization initiative by itself would generate thousands of jobs.
Thousands more would be created if Maine were to fully develop its tidal, solar and wind-based energy resources.
Strong leadership by our two senators would allow Maine to capitalize on some of its best assets, rebuild our economy in a more sustainable way, create jobs and reduce our long-term energy dependence.
We must build the clean energy economy now. It is the right thing to do and it is the profitable thing to do. A few of us have carved out a foothold in this emerging market.
But major investment will only come when our state and federal governments clearly demonstrate that they are serious about energy independence and all that means for our economic, national and environmental security.
Strong leadership by our senators on this bill would spark investment, encourage more entrepreneurs, and quickly create jobs that will stay in our state for generations.