We represent three of the 252 Maine businesses that wrote to the Legislature’s energy and utilities committee, to urge it to adopt policies to increase Maine’s use of cost-effective energy efficiency. Doing so will lower energy costs, protect and create jobs, and improve Maine’s economy by keeping more of our energy dollars in our pockets and in our state. This week in Augusta, legislators are considering an omnibus energy bill, and we hope it will include a strong focus on energy efficiency.
Our businesses are as varied as Maine. We are in Jackman, Augusta and Brewer. We sell groceries and hunting supplies, repair and sell cars, and perform home weatherization services. We may be in different businesses, but we all agree on at least one thing: Energy efficiency offers Maine businesses and our economy the best opportunity of any energy resource out there.
We often hear that Maine has among the highest energy costs in the nation (thankfully, the lowest in the region) and that these high energy costs can affect our competitiveness. Energy efficiency improves economic competitiveness. Each of our companies has first-hand knowledge of reducing energy costs substantially through public-private investments in energy efficiency. We know it works, and we know more can still be done.
Cost-effective energy efficiency is the cheapest energy “resource” available in Maine. It is literally, measurably true that the cheapest kilowatt-hour is the kilowatt-hour we don’t have to buy. Of course few things are free, and energy efficiency savings is not one of them — efficiency savings come from investments. Our businesses are making investments in energy efficiency, in partnership with programs like those at Efficiency Maine.
If Maine truly wants to reduce electricity costs for all ratepayers, the state should strive to ensure that we are capturing all of the achievable, cost-effective efficiency improvements — those that cost less than buying electricity. Energy efficiency helps keep electricity prices a little bit lower for everyone by reducing the amount of the most expensive power we would otherwise need to buy. Weatherization and air-sealing can easily cut home heating costs a third. Efficiency is a no-regrets, fuel-neutral strategy that works wherever you live in the state.
Many Maine businesses provide efficiency services to cut commercial electricity bills or to help homeowners cut heating fuel bills through weatherization. Hiring Maine firms to make energy efficiency improvements keeps Maine money flowing within the Maine economy, instead of sending it elsewhere to buy energy.
Despite the benefits of energy efficiency, as Maine businesses, we know that these energy savings are not always easy to capture in the real world. Most Maine businesses and homeowners rarely have the time or expertise to determine what energy investments make sense, which products and services can be trusted, or how to make it happen. Whether we are a local small business or a part of an international corporation, our time and our capital have to compete for other priorities.
How can Maine best help businesses to reap the multitude of benefits that result from energy efficiency improvements? We offer this four-point plan:
1. Policymakers should treat energy efficiency like other energy resources, reduce the influence of politics in determining how much energy efficiency is cost-effective, and establish a policy to ensure Maine seeks out all achievable, cost-effective energy efficiency.
2. Lawmakers should move forward on the Maine Public Utilities Commission’s unanimously supported plan to cut electricity bills further by tapping additional cost-effective efficiency.
3. Efficiency Maine needs to continue to develop effective programs that reach more business customers, from small businesses to large industrials, and help them save more money (and resist efforts to cut funding for business programs).
4. Maine should ensure that natural gas infrastructure expansion is balanced with cost-effective energy efficiency. It benefits everyone if Maine businesses or homeowners that begin to use natural gas use it as efficiently as possible.
It is our hope that the state will seize the moment and move Maine toward an energy-efficient future.
Ray Levesque owns Bishop’s Store in Jackman; Dan Brooks is vice president and co-owner of Capitol Car Care in Augusta; and Matt Damon is co-owner of Penobscot Home Performance in Brewer.