In 2008, a Time Magazine feature written by reporter Michael Grunwald piqued readers’ interest and remains remarkably relevant in 2013. Grunwald framed energy efficiency as an “untapped energy resource” that was cheaper than supply, and one that could essentially help our national economy, help our business and family budgets, and cut our dependence on foreign oil.
More Mainers are discovering the wisdom in that basic truth.
Last year, for example, thousands of Maine businesses and homeowners participated in Efficiency Maine programs, and as a result, electricity costs will be $142 million lower. Through these initiatives, more than 1,600 businesses received incentives to upgrade to high-efficiency equipment, lowering their bills while making them more competitive and securing jobs.
In 2012, about 1,000 homeowners participated in a special $600 air-sealing promotion, sealing the nooks and crannies that are prevalent in so many of Maine’s old and drafty homes, and reducing air flow enough to save an average of 70 gallons of oil per home each year. Many homeowners went for deeper energy savings, financing more than $4 million of energy efficiency improvements, including full insulation of their basements and attics.
A record 2.1 million energy-efficient compact fluorescent bulbs were sold at steep discounts through Efficiency Maine’s Residential Lighting Program. These bulbs use an estimated 75 percent less energy than incandescent bulbs and last six to 10 times longer.
Enticed by Efficiency Maine incentives, Mainers also purchased more than 29,000 energy-efficient refrigerators, clothes washers and dehumidifiers, saving more than $4 million in avoided energy costs.
Energy efficiency upgrades generated more than $73.25 million of investment in our state’s energy infrastructure during a sluggish economy, and helped to create or retain more than 1,000 jobs.
It also lowered demand during periods of peak energy use, which pushes down electricity prices paid by everyone on the grid and delays the need for future transmission and distribution expansions.
As part of Efficiency Maine’s strategic planning process for 2014-2016, an independent study was conducted last spring to assess Maine’s energy efficiency potential over the next 10 years. Consultants surveyed more than 100 businesses, inspected equipment, including lighting, motors, refrigeration, etc., and studied market research about electricity use in homes, which revealed the extent of the opportunity to harvest energy savings that is cheaper than supply.
The study determined that by 2021, between 12 to 16 percent of the electricity load in Maine could be met through energy efficiency instead of a more expensive supply.
For example, nearly half of all lights currently installed at industrial facilities are inefficient non-fluorescent. The estimate by the end of the decade would be a savings of as much as 2.1 million megawatt hours per year. The potential for thermal savings — i.e., heating fuel — is also substantial.
To drive home the point Grunwald made a few years ago, consider that the cost of standard-offer electricity last year was 7.4 cents per kilowatt hour, compared with delivering energy efficiency at a cost of between 2-3 cents per kilowatt hour.
We are effectively building a new power plant every year, made up of thousands of efficiency upgrades, that is delivering the cheapest energy around. In the next 10 years, that “power plant” will grow big enough to satisfy 12-16 percent of our electricity needs.
And as it was in 2008, energy efficiency will remain the lowest cost energy resource. Luckily, there is plenty more of this resource yet to be harvested in Maine.
With the right mix of information, technical support, and cost-sharing, Efficiency Maine will help Maine’s energy consumers take advantage of it.
Michael Stoddard is executive director of Efficiency Maine Trust.