Maine House OKs bill on energy

Posted June 05, 2009, at 8:57 p.m.

AUGUSTA, Maine— A major energy bill that calls for weatherization of homes and sets a course for energy independence in oil-addicted Maine won a unanimous vote of support in the House on Friday.

The bill, which was approved by a 137-0 vote, faces further House and Senate votes. It’s been a top priority for lawmakers during this year’s session, which began amid worries of how oil-dependent Mainers can cope with energy prices in the future.

“We have no choice today but to take action,” said House Speaker Hannah Pingree, D-North Haven. “It is an important first step.”

Eighty percent of Mainers depend on oil to heat their homes, compared to 8 percent nationally, according to government and independent studies prepared during the past year. Pingree said Mainers last year spent $1.5 billion on heating fuel. But because of poor insulation, inefficient heating systems and other forms of waste, $400 million of the total was wasted, she said.

The bill passed Friday creates an Efficiency Maine Trust to run an array of energy efficiency and renewable energy programs.

It authorizes $79 million in federal economic stimulus money spent over the next two years on energy conservation programs, principally weatherization and programs that reward consumers for buying energy-efficient appliances and renewable power systems. It encourages expanded training for careers in installation of alterna-tive energy sources, weatherization and energy auditing.

John Kerry, head of the state’s Office of Energy Independence and Security, said the bill sets a framework for weatherizing all Maine homes and 50 percent of businesses by 2030.

In addition to the federal stimulus program, funding would come from proceeds from carbon dioxide emission allowances sold through the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative and a proposed $30 million bond among other sources.

The bill emerged from a specially formed legislative committee that reviewed dozens of energy-related bills.

Supporters said it is only a start toward achieving long-term goals of reducing Maine’s thirst for fossil fuels and making the state energy independent. They acknowledged that new funding sources would have to be developed because most of the bill before lawmakers comes from one-time stimulus money.

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