Saturday, April 05, 2008

Report: Efficiency key for Maine

Portland Press Herald

Improved energy efficiency would create jobs and save businesses $450 million a year, researchers say.

By TUX TURKEL Staff Writer
April 4, 2008

Maine businesses could save more than $450 million a year in energy costs by adopting cost-effective efficiency measures, according to a report released Thursday by university researchers.

These measures could help create between 1,500 and 2,500 jobs by 2020, the report said, and boost the state's gross domestic product between $170 million and $260 million, depending on energy prices.

The report was prepared for the Governor's Energy Efficiency Summit, which took place Thursday at the Augusta Civic Center. It was compiled by professors at the Muskie School for Public Service at the University of Southern Maine and the Margaret Chase Smith Policy Center at the University of Maine.

Underscoring the rising energy prices and economic stresses being experienced today in Maine, the report said increased energy efficiency is perhaps the single most effective action that businesses could take to be more competitive. That's because Maine's economy is more energy-intensive than economies in the other New England states and that Maine pays more for energy than many other states.

Energy efficiency isn't a new idea for Maine businesses. But the report noted several barriers that stand in the way of making greater progress. Among them, the report said, is that many businesses aren't aware of opportunities to improve efficiency, the costs and benefits of doing so and how to finance the upgrades. Volatile energy prices also have made efficiency appear to be a risky investment.

To overcome these obstacles, the report suggested a comprehensive assessment of the economic potential for energy efficiency in Maine and more money for public-private partnerships, such as the state's Efficiency Maine program, to offer technical assistance.

Raising awareness and suggesting solutions is one of the motivations behind the energy summit. The event featured experts talking about how to carry out and finance efficiency projects in a range of business settings. An exposition staged by vendors displayed available technologies and services.

The report defines efficiency as a measure of output per unit input; a compact fluorescent bulb can produce the same light for less energy than an incandescent bulb. Conservation is defined as decreased energy use, such as installing programmable thermostats that automatically turn down heat at night.

Other strategies include installing new boilers, water heaters and pipe insulation, engineering heat recovery, adding insulation and new windows and upgrading motors and computers.

Energy prices are a national concern, but the report highlighted the added impact on Maine's economy and the case for greater efficiency and conservation in the business community. It noted, for instance, that the commercial and industrial sectors account for half the state's energy use.

And while industry has diversified its energy supply with hydro and biomass, other sectors, notably transportation and commercial, are heavily dependent on petroleum.

In calculating the benefits of efficiency and conservation to the Maine economy, university researchers looked at past studies in Maine, Vermont, Connecticut and Florida and used an economic model to compute the potential.

Staff Writer Tux Turkel can be contacted at 791-6462 or:

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