EDITORIALS

Holding onto the heat should be priority

Posted Nov. 20, 2011, at 3:53 p.m.

The cheapest energy is the energy that is not used. That’s the thinking behind Efficiency Maine, a state program that helps businesses and residents cut their power usage, to save money and improve the environment.

So it is confusing that Gov. Paul LePage wants to use money from Efficiency Maine to cover a potential shortfall in funding from the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program, LIHEAP.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services last month notified MaineHousing, which distributes the state’s LIHEAP funds, that it should expect to receive $23 million this winter, down from $55.6 million last year. The federal government frequently says the state will receive reduced LIHEAP benefits only to have Congress appropriate a much larger amount.

Still, the governor is smart to have a contingency plan in case this year’s cut is real. Taking money from energy-efficiency programs doesn’t make sense, however.

Energy efficiency is a wise investment that quickly pays dividends. Before using state money to buy fuel to heat peoples’ homes, it makes sense to first ensure that the heating money doesn’t literally fly out doors and windows.

Efficiency Maine offers cash incentives and rebates for businesses and residents to help offset the costs of buying more efficient heating equipment and appliances and other energy-saving devices. Efficiency Maine also works with MaineHousing and local Community Action Programs to weatherize homes.

Since it began in 2002, Efficiency Maine has saved business and residential consumers nearly $400 million and reduced electricity consumption by nearly 4 million megawatt hours.

According to its website, investing in efficiency is 72 percent cheaper than purchasing new energy supply.

Despite Efficiency Maine’s progress, the state is far behind on improving its energy efficiency.

A recent report conducted by the Northeast Energy Efficiency Partnerships examined states that are leading and those that are lagging in capturing cost-effective energy efficiency to help meet energy demand.

While many Northeast states have been leaders in energy-efficiency innovation, Maine is struggling in this area, in part because Maine legislators have failed to fully fund Efficiency Maine, according to the report.

“Efficiency Maine is doing some tremendous work in helping residential and business customers wring more out of their energy dollars, and this brings many positives to Maine as a whole,” said Natalie Hildt, manager of policy outreach for the group. “We hope this report will help more folks in Augusta and across Maine see what’s possible when everyone’s rowing in the same direction with regards to energy-efficiency policy.”

Funding efficiency work goes hand-in-hand with heating assistance.

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