Oil use drops; Efficiency Maine offering rebates to find alternatives

Posted Sept. 19, 2013, at 6:07 a.m.

Maine is the most heating-oil dependent state in the country, but figures released Thursday by the U.S. Census show its use here continuing to wane: 67.5 percent of homes relied on oil for their primary heat source in 2012, down from 69 percent in 2011 and 80.2 percent in 2000.

Industry officials point to a mix of increased efficiency and trying to avoid oil’s volatile, rising prices as factors behind the trend.

News of the decrease came as Efficiency Maine announced a new program with $6.2 million in rebates to entice Maine homeowners into new energy projects. It could save, collectively, 630,000 gallons of heating oil a year, according to Executive Director Michael Stoddard.

He hopes 3,500 homeowners take part in the new Home Energy Savings Program.

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Incentives range from $250 toward a pellet or wood stove to $5,000 toward a pellet boiler or geothermal heat pump system. The $5,000 rebate is capped at 50 participants and is the only incentive that requires pre-approval.

Projects can also include insulation work. Most require homeowners to spend two times the rebate amount. For instance, $1,500 would need to be spent on a project with a $500 rebate.

“We’re essentially trying to get people up to the equivalent of modern-day building energy codes,” Stoddard said.

He anticipates many homeowners starting with an “air sealing with assessment” — six hours of work by a professional who blocks air flow in a home and recommends future work to address issues. The homeowner pays $200, Efficiency Maine, $400. The six hours of work are estimated to save most homeowners 70 gallons of oil a year.

“That’s our sort of gateway step for most of what happens,” Stoddard said.

Funding comes from the sale of Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative carbon credits, money that had been mostly channeled to efforts to conserve electricity in the past, Stoddard said. That was changed in the Legislature this spring.

Homeowners must work with Efficiency Maine “registered vendors” to receive the rebate. It doesn’t cover vacation homes or apartments with more than five units.

Lisa J. Smith, who tracks heating oil prices for the Governor’s Office of Energy Independence, called the new Census figures “excellent.”

In addition to using less oil, numbers also show homes that burned wood, which includes pellets, increased to 13.7 percent in 2012 — up from 12 percent in 2011 and 6.4 percent in 2000.

“It makes sense,” she said. “The price of oil isn’t going down anytime soon. Mainers have been looking for alternative sources. They’ve put in pellet stoves, now they’re putting in heat pumps. I think it’s a good sign that Mainers are turning to other options to lower their costs.”

The rise in the use of electricity for home heat, from 4.5 percent to 7 percent, may be about air-source heat pumps and hot water heat pumps, she said.

“It’s probably just a little higher than I would have thought; I didn’t realize that that many Mainers have availed themselves,” Smith said. “All those trends sound dead-on to me.”

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