Saturday, March 8, 2014
The agency that has given shoppers rebates for compact-fluorescent light bulbs and helped factories buy power-saving motors is preparing a plan for spending electricity ratepayers' money through 2016, and looking for public comment on the plan.
WHERE TO GO . . .
Efficiency Maine Trust hearings on its three-year, conservation and energy efficiency investment plan:
Wednesday, 9 a.m. to noon. Bangor Hilton Garden Inn.
Thursday, 9 am to noon. Southern Maine Community College/McKernan Center.
Efficiency Maine Trust, the quasi-independent agency that guides the state's investment in energy efficiency and conservation, will hold public hearings on its "Triennial Plan" on Wednesday and Thursday in Bangor and South Portland, respectively.
The high cost of energy, driven by rising oil prices, has Mainers looking for more ways to save money. Efficiency Maine's proposed plan outlines several ways to do that, through baseline funding assumptions and the potential for additional spending that could maximize cost-effective energy savings.
Maine's share of ratepayer money to pay for energy efficiency and conservation is the lowest in the Northeast, according to Efficiency Maine. It amounts to roughly one-tenth of one cent on every kilowatt hour of electricity used, and generates about $13.5 million a year.
At the hearings, environmental activists are expected to call for an increase in ratepayers' investment in the program, arguing that it's the least expensive way to lower electricity bills and create jobs.
But the outlook for increasing ratepayers' charges is dim. The so-called existing systems benefit charge remains controversial among some officials and politicians, who see it as a tax.
Gov. Paul LePage has openly expressed skepticism about the value of some conservation efforts. His energy director, Kenneth Fletcher, says the governor favors private investment and consumers' decisions, rather than additional public or ratepayer incentives.
Still, Efficiency Maine can make a compelling case for how it has spent money in its first two years of existence.
On average, its investments have cost about 3 cents for each kilowatt hour saved. That's less than half what residential customers pay for electricity. If distribution charges are added, it's just one-fifth the cost.
Most of the savings have come from an aggressive program to subsidize and market compact-fluorescent light bulbs and Energy Star appliances for residential customers, high-efficiency lighting for offices and stores, and high-efficiency motors for industry.
"When policy makers are looking for ways to lower electric bills, we can see that, financially, energy-efficiency should be a key part of the equation," said Michael Stoddard, the trust's executive director.
The baseline funding plan that Efficiency Maine will propose at the hearings shows that the range of programs it offers would cost the agency $80.6 million and participants $48.1 million, for a total of $128.7 million over three years. It says that spending would save $416.5 million over time -- more than $3 for every dollar spent.
Efficiency Maine and its board of directors came under fire last year for their role in overseeing the practices of the now-defunct Maine Green Energy Alliance, and its use of a federal grant meant to expand home energy audits and weatherization.
Questions raised in media reports about the origins of the alliance, its spending and hiring practices and apparent links to the Democratic Party led to legislative scrutiny by Republicans.
A state investigation into the group's financial practices revealed poor accounting but no missing money or inappropriate spending. It also showed that, beyond the energy alliance issue, the trust's performance on its central mission could stand up to intense scrutiny.
"There's no political agenda, no partisan agenda," Stoddard said.
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