House Warming

Posted Jan. 12, 2010, at 7:03 p.m.

The most effective way for Maine to wean itself from its high-energy habits is to reduce demand. It is a simple, but profound truth — when energy is conserved, the cost of that energy not consumed is immediately moved to the asset side of the books. The more energy conserved, the more the asset ledger grows.

Bangor Daily News columnist Tom Gocze has written that consumers often focus on the latest magic bullet in the home heating market — pellet stoves, wood furnaces, heat pumps and other technological advances that will soon come down the pike.

But the best investment homeowners can make, Mr. Gocze preaches, is to reduce the heat that escapes through walls, windows, doors and roofs.

That’s why the news that Maine state government is offering $1,500 to $3,000 rebates for home weatherization projects should be hailed as a practical, sound step toward seizing control of our energy fate, as long as the rebates don’t come with too many strings attached.

Gov. John Baldacci has set a goal to weatherize — or improve the heat-retaining capacity of — all Maine homes by 2020. Two factors that make that goal worthy yet challenging are that Maine has one of the oldest housing stocks in the nation, and some 80 percent of Maine residences use oil heat.

The rebates, which are funded by federal stimulus funds, should be targeted to insulation enhancements and door and window replacements. They have the potential to save homeowners many thousands of dollars over their lives, and reduce the importation of hundreds of thousands of gallons of heating oil over the coming decades.

Skeptics may see the program as yet another government giveaway. But this is the sort of practical use of taxpayer money that can actually make a difference in the comfort of people in their homes and their ability to pay their bills. And almost all of the money will be spent locally.

Tax breaks for solar hot water and photovoltaic panels and using south-facing windows and other emerging energy-efficiency methods are laudable. But these programs tend to benefit those with more capital to invest in their homes. The weatherization rebate program builds on the known benefits that social service agencies have been seeing for decades in their version of this approach.

Plugging those leaks in Maine homes also plugs holes in our economy and our wallets.

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