June 22, 2018
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Energy, Jobs Plan

Big problems require big solutions. And no problem is greater than the need to move away from petroleum-based energy. President Obama has launched initiatives that begin to move the nation in this direction, but there is much more to be done at the state level. A plan developed by the education advocacy group Opportunity Maine would, if approved by the Legislature, create a 10-year comprehensive approach to saving up to 30 percent of nontransportation energy while also launching a new jobs sector.

The catch is that it will cost money. And that money will come from fees attached to electricity, natural gas and fuel oil purchases. Selling those fee hikes to recently sticker-shocked consumers will be tough, but not impossible.

The plan, as explained by Rob Brown, executive director of Opportunity Maine, would move the existing Efficiency Maine program out from under the Public Utilities Commission. Efficiency Maine, like FAME and MaineHousing, could then do its own bonding. The bonds would be paid for with funding from existing fees paid in electric and natural gas bills and a new fee on wholesale heating oil purchases. With that money — an estimated $178 million a year — Efficiency Maine would give grants to industrial, commercial and residential applicants to pay for improving energy efficiency.

The focus, Mr. Brown says, is on existing structures. Industry in particular, he says, which often uses large, older structures, can achieve energy savings of 30 percent or more with easy fixes. And rather than merely give tax breaks to those who would slap insulation up in their business or home in a haphazard way, the plan would provide carefully developed standards. Those standards would be based on what works and would be available in a single, centralized source, and professional energy audits would be conducted before fixes are approved.

What’s especially appealing about this proposal is that it addresses a demonstrable need, while also creating a job force to complete the work. The state Department of Labor would, under the plan, give competitive grants to consortiums that include colleges, social service agencies and businesses, which in turn will create training programs for the new jobs.

Mr. Brown sees training programs for jobs such as weatherization technician, insulation installer and solar thermal technician, as well as to keep carpenters, electricians and heating system installers up to speed on the new “green” best practices.

Rather than hope for across-the-board job growth as a result of investing in improving Maine’s building and housing stock, the plan targets a specific job sector. This approach, Mr. Brown said, has been shown to work effectively.

Opportunity Maine’s plan, LD 1724, is sponsored by Rep. Seth Berry, D-Bowdoinham, and is expected to be introduced later this month. If passed as written, it could reduce Maine’s nontransportation energy consumption by a third, thereby making its businesses more competitive, and train a work force ready for the post-petroleum age.

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