EDITORIALS

Helping business cut electricity consumption boosts profits

Posted May 23, 2011, at 10:37 p.m.
Last modified May 24, 2011, at 9:56 a.m.

Imagine a consultant analyzes how your business operates. His or her recommendations show how you can eliminate 20 of your 100 employees and still produce the same number of widgets and bring in the same amount of revenue. That recommendation would translate into an immediate and substantial boost to your bottom line.

The downside in this scenario is that 20 people would lose their jobs. But what if the consultant could show you how to cut your electric consumption by 20 percent? Some of the recommendations would focus on how your business operates. Another component would include a 33 percent rebate for the more efficient equipment you’d need to buy. The savings, just like those from the cut jobs, goes immediately to the bottom line, and remains there, year after year.

The Efficiency Maine Trust, a program operating in Maine since 2003, provides engineering consultation and equipment rebates to achieve electricity savings. Not only does it do so for businesses, but it also offers these services to residents.

The catch is that Efficiency Maine Trust is funded through a charge on electric bills. A PUC-approved plan that needs legislative approval would increase the charge from an average of 75 cents per monthly residential bill to $1.13 per month in 2012 and $1.82 in 2013. The new rate would generate $31 million by 2013.

Supporters note that replacing a 100-watt incandescent bulb with a compact florescent bulb saves about $1.66 per month, thereby off-setting the increase.

Republicans aiming to help Maine businesses must embrace the expansion of this program. Among its beneficiaries are ski areas, for whom Efficiency Maine Trust engineers helped reconfigure water lines in snow-making equipment. So are boat builders, whose electric-intensive mold-injection systems were improved. So was Maine Wild Blueberries, a company operating in Washington County; New Balance, which operates in central and western Maine; Moody’s Auto Body & Collision Repair in Southern Maine, operated by former gubernatorial candidate Shawn Moody; and Marden’s Surplus & Salvage, the company for which Gov. LePage last worked.

The Brewer Marden’s spent $65,700 upgrading lighting, of which $21,500 was reimbursed by Efficiency Maine. The work is projected to save $236,300 over its project life.

It can be a difficult concept to grasp, but electricity not used is a better “buy” than new electricity generation. For proof, weigh the cost of cutting consumption (the fee on electric bills to fund efficiency programs) against building a $10 billion nuclear power plant (which would take more than a decade to construct). Furthermore, the efficiency fixes the program pays for are carefully audited by third parties to ensure they work; these are not feel good, “green-washing” changes.

Proponents note that efficiency programs have been embraced by governors of both parties in other U.S. states. Nova Scotia, with a significantly smaller population than Maine, sets aside $150 million each year for its program, five times the size of what the Maine fund would have if the increase is approved.

It’s a choice Maine and its pro-business governor and Legislature also should make.

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