Committee Diverts Energy-Efficiency Funding

On Thursday, budget conference committee members of the Maryland General Assembly agreed to strip funding for energy-efficiency in the state’s budget through 2012.  Instead, the money is being allocated to the state’s direct bill pay assistance program to help low-income homes pay their utility bills.  The funding is raised through the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI), a regional cap-and-trade agreement, and according to law, at least 50% of the energy-efficiency money within RGGI is to be dedicated to low-income and moderate-income households to help families reduce their monthly electric bills.

“Energy-efficiency programs are the best way to lower energy bills, create good quality jobs, and reduce demand for electricity state-wide,” said Fielding Huseth, a consumer advocate with the Maryland Public Interest Research Group.  “The conference committee’s poor decision managed to hurt small businesses, ratepayers and the environment.”

A study by the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy found that every $1 spent on energy-efficiency can save up to $4 in reduced electric bills.  Additionally, the same study found that the EmPOWER Maryland program could create 8,000 jobs by 2015.

In the 2009 Budget Reconciliation and Financing Act (SB 166/HB 101), funding raised from Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative auctions was diverted away from energy efficiency programs into the Electric Universal Service Program for 2010 and 2011.  However, funding for home weatherization and energy-efficiency from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act has filled the gap to allow energy-efficiency businesses to continue hiring and growing.  By 2012, stimulus funding for energy efficiency programs is expected to dry up, which could adversely affect business by preventing many consumers from paying the up-front costs out of pocket.

“The up-front costs of weatherizing a home prohibit many low-income households from taking advantage of the valuable service,” said Peter Van Buren, President of TerraLogos Energy Group.  “But the benefits should not be overlooked.  We’ve been able to shave hundreds of dollars a month from customers’ energy bills by air sealing attics and basements and increasing insulation in the home.”

TerraLogos Energy Group from Baltimore has conducted over 850 energy audits so far, and according to an active ticker on their website shows they have saved consumers over $2,492,000 and 30,797,000 kilowatt hours.  In terms of global warming pollution, they estimate having saved nearly 6,000 tons of carbon dioxide from entering the atmosphere.

“The bottom line is energy-efficiency creates jobs, cuts pollution, lowers utility bills, and reduces overall demand for electricity,” said Huseth. “Redirecting energy-efficiency funding likely means fewer jobs, more pollution, and higher utility bills.”