Senator James Hamper, Chair
Representative Peggy Rotundo, Chair
Joint Standing Committee on Appropriations & Financial Affairs
My name is Dylan Voorhees and I am the Clean Energy Director for the Natural Resources Council of Maine. Thank you for allowing us to present this testimony. There is widespread agreement that Maine should do more to lower energy costs. Furthermore, most citizens and policymakers understand that improving energy efficiency of our homes and equipment is one of the most cost-effective ways to reduce energy costs. The challenge has been coming to agreement on how to mobilize sufficient public and private resources to increase investment in energy efficiency. Inaction is extremely costly to Maine people and businesses. This bond proposal is a significant and sensible solution that will provide enormous benefits.
Here are five reasons why you should support this bond bill:
1. This is one of the biggest things the Legislature can do to lower heating costs in Maine.
Over the next four years, Efficiency Maine may have existing resources—assuming the Omnibus law is corrected and there are no forthcoming cuts—to help some 35,000 – 40,000 homes invest in insulation, air sealing, heat pumps, wood pellets and other high efficiency measures. This bond would allow them to nearly double that, and reach almost 70,000 homes. That’s the equivalent of all the housing units in Lewiston, Auburn, Sanford, Waterville, Presque Isle, Skowhegan and Caribou combined. This bill would allow Maine to reduce heating oil use by more than 100 million gallons over the lifetime of those efficiency improvements. That is the equivalent to 20-25% of the heating oil consumed all of Maine buildings each year.
These efforts are providing real world benefits to thousands of Maine people. They are warmer, healthier, able to better enjoy and afford to stay in their homes. The bill also provides a substantial amount to help improve Maine’s low-income housing stock. Weatherizing these homes is a more costly undertaking, however the benefits are often particularly large and impactful.
2. Maine’s home heating efficiency market is ripe to grow and create jobs.
The approaches being used by Efficiency Maine are proving their success. In particular, since the passage of the Omnibus bill, the Home Energy Savings Program has caused a substantial increase in the number of home efficiency upgrades, and a corresponding increase in business activity and employment among private sector contractors and suppliers who do these upgrades.
There is substantial potential for more growth in this sector, but that growth is on pause. (In fact, some of those jobs may be jeopardy pending resolution of the missing “and”.) Home heating efficiency companies will expand and hire workers to match the expected pace of home improvement; not based on activity each month or even each year, but based on what they expect that pace to be next year and the following year. Uncertainty about Efficiency Maine funding has been too great over the years for them to hire as many workers as may be put to work during busy times. This bond, combined with LD 1215, would allow Maine’s energy efficiency sector to take the brakes off and put more Mainers on payroll.
3. Lowering heating costs through energy efficiency improvements has bipartisan support.
Governor LePage has spoken passionately about the need to lower heating costs for Maine people and we agree. For example, in his February 25 radio address, the Governor said:
“We must also help Mainers invest in more affordable heating options. We have made some progress: 10,000 heat pumps have been installed in Maine… Let’s help [the truly needy] invest in heat pumps, install wood stoves or upgrade to highly efficient oil burners.”
He left off insulation, but the sentiment is excellent. This year Representative Timberlake put in a bill to provide funding to increase home efficiency. So did Senator Johnson. (They each ran into trouble because they proposed taking funds from other sources, funds which were collected and intended for other purposes.) This is simply not a partisan issue.
4. A strong majority of Maine voters support the proposed bond.
According to polling completed this spring among registered voters, a full 70% of voters said they supported a $30 million bond to help lower heating costs by improving the efficiency of Maine homes. Support was strong across all demographics. The ratio of “strong” support to “strong” opposition was nearly 3:1, foretelling very likely success at the polls. This committee and this legislature must decide which bonds to send to the voters. How many bond proposals come before you with so clearly established voter support already demonstrated? A few, but not many. And rarely as strong and universal support as this one has.
5. We can’t afford to wait for a heating oil pricing crisis.
This winter was particularly long and cold; however oil prices were relatively low (only double what they were ten years ago, instead of triple or quadruple.) Many Mainers squeaked by. Maine will never be able to have any control over heating oil prices; we have a hard enough time predicting them. I will make a prediction though: they will go up. When and how quickly is anyone’s guess, but it is a risk that hangs over the entire state.
I remember being here in 2008 when oil prices spiked. There was a panic. No one, Democrat nor Republican, had any real solutions. That’s because is not a problem that can be addressed overnight. We need to make sustained progress toward lowering our need for heating fuels and increasing the efficiency of our homes. There are some 500,000 households in Maine. Now is the time to accelerate progress. We have strategies that are working, cost-effective and proven technologies, and a private sector workforce ready to go. If you wait for the crisis, it will be too late. If we act now, we can lower heating costs for Mainers immediately and those benefits will be multiplied when that winter you are dreading arrives.
For all these reasons we urge you to pass LD 1341 and send this important energy bond to the voters. Thank you.