Forecaster Forum: Criticism of Maine Green Energy Alliance 'uninformed and unfair'

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The Maine Green Energy Alliance (MGEA) and its efforts under a grant from the federal government to promote residential energy efficiency have come under broadly publicized criticism. This criticism is both uninformed and unfair, misleading the reader with regards to the intentions and performance of the organization.

A fair review of MGEA would reveal an organization comprised of highly experienced people who worked hard to implement an innovative program for improving Maine’s energy efficiency, an organization that performed well in a very constrained period of time, and an organization that responsibly recommended reallocating its funding to a more immediately impactful program that would otherwise have run out of funds.

First, MGEA sought to develop and test methods for dramatically increasing the demand for energy-saving home improvements – a key issue for the state of Maine. Maine residents spend over $1.8 billion every year heating our homes and keeping our lights on. Lowering Mainers’ home energy bills by 30 percent would keep over $550 million dollars in their pocketbooks and in the local economy each year.

Despite the fact that energy-saving home improvements are highly cost-effective, homeowners face significant barriers to making these improvements: some lack the necessary financial resources, others are unaware of the benefits of energy efficiency, many don’t know which contractors they can trust, and some don’t have the time and energy.

Second, MGEA developed an innovative program that worked with local communities, the private sector, and government programs to help overcome these barriers. MGEA’s approach helped the state win a $30 million grant to improve the energy efficiency of Maine’s housing stock from the Department of Energy – one of the largest grant awards in a highly competitive, national grant review process.

In support of the grant application, MGEA played a lead role in drafting and promoting legislation for a loan program that will allow Maine homeowners, many of whom would otherwise lack the means to pay for these improvements, to finance cost-effective energy-saving home improvements.

Third, MGEA executed its program exceptionally well. MGEA received its funding in mid-August, had selected its eight pilot communities 45 days later, and was hosting community meetings, tabling at local events, going door-to-door, and conducting other outreach efforts throughout the fall and winter. These efforts were resulting in residents of these communities being three times more likely to get a home energy audit than residents in the average Maine community.

In large part because of the guidance that MGEA’s staff provided, over 60 percent of the homeowners who scheduled an energy audit completed the energy-saving home improvements. Although it takes an average homeowner four months to go from scheduling an audit to completing the home improvements, after only five months of funding, MGEA-assisted homeowners had already completed over 50 home improvements and over 120 more are in the pipeline.

Fourth, MGEA measured its effectiveness and held itself accountable from start to finish. It tracked the effectiveness of different outreach efforts and the performance of different contractors so that it could maximize the program’s impact over the three years of the grant. Perhaps most importantly, it critically compared the effectiveness of its program relative to Efficiency Maine’s rebate program.

When it became apparent in January that Efficiency Maine’s rebate program had exceeded expectations in generating demand for energy-saving home improvements and was running low on funding, MGEA’s board voted to terminate its own contract early so that taxpayer dollars would be used in the most effective way possible for improving Maine’s residential energy efficiency.

Maine faces many important issues, one of which is the cost of energy. We will only succeed in addressing these issues if we continue to try innovative approaches, execute them well, rigorously measure their effectiveness, and then allocate our limited resources towards the most cost-effective approach. I am proud of how well we did just this at the Maine Green Energy Alliance.

Seth Murray was executive director of the Maine Green Energy Alliance.