How can the Midwest be better? Energy efficiency insights from the Northeast

October 1, 2018 by Claire Cowan

As Energy Efficiency Day approaches on Friday, Oct. 5, we reflect on the ways Wisconsin, the home of our headquarters, can learn from our more progressive neighbors who are making energy efficiency a priority. Our expert, Claire Cowan, director of program design and delivery, now resides in the northeastern state of Maine. Claire gives you a look into the energy efficiency potential available to another state with a similar climate to Wisconsin.

“I recently returned to the Northeast after more than 20 years of living in California and Wisconsin. I now call Portland, Maine my home. While the energy efficiency community shares many traits across the country, here are a few notable differences I’ve observed since moving to the coast.

I recently learned that Maine is a leader in promoting the installation of cold climate heat pumps. According to ACEEE, Efficiency Maine has incentivized more than 25,000 heat pumps since 2011. They are also doing some compelling research on how to optimize heat pump performance and maximize energy savings. The key takeaway from a recent Efficiency Maine workshop I attended was “don’t touch that thermostat setting!” Heat pumps perform better if you set it and forget it. As someone who used to painstakingly spin her old thermostat dial back and forth in the days before programmable models, this hands-off approach sounds appealing.

Maine also has a strong DIY culture, and there is a highly successful grassroots efficiency initiative here called Window Dressers. It was started by the Unitarian Universalist church in Rockland. After an energy audit identified leaky windows as a major culprit, church members got training in how to construct their own window inserts to cut down on heat loss. This turned into a nonprofit-led seasonal initiative where communities across the state host volunteer parties to construct the inserts. A portion of the inserts are given to income eligible households for free. The program is so popular that when I went online to sign up for a Portland workshop, all the volunteer slots were fully booked weeks in advance! Check out the inspiring story.

Window Dressing

Lastly, I’ve had the opportunity to observe some innovative state-level policy efforts. In Massachusetts, the Mass Save utilities are in the process of developing their next three-year energy efficiency program plan. The state recently signed into law HB 4857, an Act to Advance Clean Energy. Among other changes, this new law allows expands the technologies eligible for energy efficiency portfolios to include renewable energy resources, energy storage, and beneficial electrification programs that cost-effectively reduce carbon emissions. This kind of policy leadership that seeks to break down silos between clean energy resource initiatives is critical to building the energy future we need to see.”