Though we’re still enjoying a beautiful autumn, many Mainers are already worrying about a repeat of last year’s record-setting winter. Maine’s old housing stock and high dependence on heating oil leave many Mainers woefully unprepared for another winter of heavy snows and cold.
Nine years ago, Evergreen Home Performance looked at Maine’s combination of old houses, high oil dependence and natural resources and saw a business opportunity. Since then, we’ve transformed hundreds of Maine houses from energy hogs to comfortable, efficient, worry-free homes, giving homeowners a nice buffer against volatile fuel prices. We’ve employed building science, well-engineered air sealing and insulation upgrades and highly trained, green-collar workers. And in a classic example of doing well by doing good, our business is thriving.
Evergreen offers just one of the many concrete ways to make Maine more secure, comfortable and prosperous in the face of the “new normal” of extreme weather and a changing climate. Energy efficiency improvements improve comfort, lower heating costs and improve energy security for working families. For large energy users — such as paper mills, hospitals and grocery stores — those energy savings also increase competitiveness and strengthen our economy.
Since 2007, much of the funding for Maine’s powerful energy efficiency programs has come from the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative. This collaboration among nine Northeast states is a market-based effort to reduce climate-changing carbon pollution from power plants and spur investments in energy efficiency and clean energy.
The Environmental Protection Agency’s Clean Power Plan acknowledges the initiative’s positive economic and environmental impact and requires other states to develop plans to meet the first-ever national limits on carbon pollution from power plants, suggesting it as one model.
Currently, power plants generate 40 percent of the climate-changing carbon pollution in the nation. The Clean Power Plan is designed to reduce that pollution by 32 percent by 2030 — a target Maine is already on track to surpass. In that sense, the plan’s standards will not present a big change for Maine, but will level the playing field for energy prices nationwide.
Climate policies like those introduced by the EPA are already benefiting Maine tremendously, and we are ahead of the curve to benefit from the new national Clean Power Plan, too. The Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative has generated significant funding for the programs, operated by Efficiency Maine, that help cut heating costs and energy use for Maine homes and businesses, large and small.
These efforts have provided a significant boost to our economy — a net increase of $215 million over the last six years, according to a recent independent analysis. The initiative has also encouraged the development of Maine’s homegrown energy resources, such as wind, solar, hydro and ocean renewables, thereby creating more energy security and local jobs.
The growth of our small business has been mirrored statewide, proving that standards such as those set by the Clean Power Plan can be a powerful economic driver, in addition to reducing pollution, protecting our environment and further supporting a state economy that relies largely on natural resources and a clean environment.
Our neighbors in the Northeast — the other eight Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative states — share our commitment to reducing carbon pollution from power plants. But carbon pollution doesn’t respect state lines, and emissions from well beyond our borders threaten our air, health and livelihoods. New national standards will improve air quality and reduce health problems such as asthma, which are exacerbated by carbon pollution.
The Clean Power Plan recognizes Maine’s leadership as a member of the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, and our economy and climate will benefit as other regions come closer to our standards of clean power. It’s time for Washington to ensure that our nation follows Maine’s example. I urge Sens. Susan Collins and Angus King to do everything within their power to lead the U.S. Senate in supporting the Clean Power Plan.
Richard Burbank of Falmouth is the president of and an energy adviser with Evergreen Home Performance.