BRUNSWICK — First they offered coal and firewood. Then they switched to propane and oil. Now Downeast Energy is offering its customers a solar option through a new partnership with Portland-based ReVision Energy.
Although Downeast isn’t shifting away from its foundation in home heating oil, the company is responding to customer interest in solar power.
The company employs more than a dozen energy advisers who make visits to customers homes and discuss ways to improve energy efficiency. ReVision has been working to train those advisers to inspect a house for solar panel compatibility, and if a customer is interested, the advisers will refer them to ReVision for panel installation.
No money will be exchanged between the two companies. The partnership is based solely on marketing and referrals.
According to Mike McCormack, vice president of energy sales at Downeast, the new alliance will allow Downeast to offer customers a wider array of energy options and help market the company as dealing in more than just oil.
“It takes the reputation of the company … and raises the bar even more,” he said.
ReVision co-founder Phil Coupe is hoping to reach some of Downeast’s 50,000 customers and get referrals from its energy advisers. He said Downeast’s reach will plant the seed of solar power into the minds of more Mainers, who he acknowledged may doubt the viability of solar in a state with long, cold winters.
But he pointed out that Maine, with its few foggy or cloudy days, has excellent solar energy potential and receives a third more sun annually than Germany, a nation that has made significant investments in solar panels.
ReVision specializes in solar hot water systems, which cost between $8,000 and $12,000 to install. Federal tax credits take 30 percent off that price, and a $1,000 cash rebate reduces the cost further.
Coupe said solar panels can provide 100 percent of a household’s hot water in summer and 60 percent in the winter, and can save 250 to 300 gallons of oil per year when combined with boiler upgrades – savings of more than $1,000 at last winter’s oil prices.
Downeast’s decision to partner with ReVision comes at a critical time for the company. Household consumption of oil is decreasing, and Downeast’s customers use less oil now than 20 years ago, according to McCormack. The solution is not to fight energy efficiency increases, he said, but to attract new customers by broadening Downeast’s appeal.
But even with heating oil consumption dropping, Maine remains heavily reliant on the fuel, something that even Coupe acknowledged.
“Maine is the most oil-dependent state per-capita in New England,” he said, pointing out that more than 70 percent of Maine homes are heated with oil. Even homes with his solar panels installed still need an additional form of heat, albeit less of it than without the renewable technology.
Still, partnering with Downeast is a key step towards Coupe’s goal of lowering energy costs for all Mainers.
“We want solar to be accessible to everyone in Maine,” he said.
Phil Coupe, left, co-founder of ReVision Energy, and Mike McCormack, vice president of energy sales at Downeast, announce the partnership between the two companies on Monday in Brunswick. Beside them are solar panels that heat hot water.