Report urges weatherization, audit efforts

Posted July 23, 2008, at 12 a.m.
Last modified Jan. 27, 2011, at 11:50 p.m.

AUGUSTA, Maine&nbsp- A report presented Tuesday to Gov. John Baldacci calls for a series of energy-reducing efforts, such as expanded home weatherization and additional energy audits, to help the state prepare for the coming heating season.

“Everybody that I talk to, everywhere I talk to people, they are all concerned about the high cost of energy,” Baldacci said Tuesday as he received the report by the Pre-Emergency Energy Task Force. “People are really anxious. They’ re nervous and they want information.”

Rather than recommending sweeping government actions and drastic policy changes, the report emphasizes volunteerism and community awareness with a touch of Yankee ingenuity. But the report minced no words on the seriousness of the situation.

“Our nation, region and state have become dangerously dependent on unreliable, insecure and expensive foreign oil and natural gas,” John Kerry, chairman of the task force, said in the report’ s cover letter to the governor.

“As the annual fossil fuel bill in the State of Maine escalates to nearly $8 billion, it is clear that there is a dramatic need to change the energy culture and consumption patterns in the state, region and nation,” said Kerry, director of the state Office of Energy Independence and Security.

Steep increases in oil prices can have a particularly acute impact in Maine, where 99.9 percent of its residents depend on petroleum products to fuel their vehicles and 80 percent are dependent on oil to heat their homes, the report says.

Heating oil prices have been rising steadily for weeks but recently leveled off. The statewide average for heating oil was $4.62 a gallon, according to the most recent biweekly summer survey, with prices as high as $4.81 a gallon in eastern Maine and as low as $4.08 in southwestern Maine.

The report recommends seven short-term actions that expand on the state’ s energy and transportation programs to address rising prices.

They include streamlining of all Maine energy resources to provide “one-stop shopping” for residents and businesses, with a 211 hot line that offers help to Mainers with information about energy programs, heating oil assistance, financial incentives and other programs.

It envisions expansion of weatherization to 5,000 Maine homes through distribution of “warm kits” before the winter arrives, and increased audits of homes and businesses by hundreds of energy service providers, such as meter readers and heating oil company drivers, Baldacci said.

Other recommendations include increased public outreach efforts to advise people what they can do to prepare for winter, and expanded energy-efficiency efforts at schools, businesses, municipalities and hospitals through existing state and federal programs.

The governor said he would review the recommendations. Although he did not rule out a special session of the Legislature focusing on energy issues, Baldacci said he would look at what actions he can take without lawmakers’ involvement.

But Baldacci acknowledged that the government can do only so much, especially in this time of budget tightening. Instead, he said everyone must take personal responsibility to prepare for winter now. He said much of the expense would fall to nonprofits and businesses willing to help.

The governor recalled how neighbors helped one another during the 1998 ice storm. While the coming winter will be far longer, he predicted that Mainers will rise to the occasion and help one another get through what is expected to be a brutal heating season for many lower-income individuals.

“This is one where we’ re going to have to get ready, hunker down and get through it. And we will,” Baldacci told a room full of reporters and members of the task force.

BDN writer Kevin Miller contributed to this report.

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