PORTLAND, Maine — Environment Maine unveiled a plan Thursday to reduce Maine’s dependence on oil by nearly 40 percent by 2030, beating established legislative energy benchmarks without expanding use of natural gas, which is a central component of Gov. Paul LePage’s energy strategy.

Environment Maine field associate Andrew Francis was joined Thursday by state Rep. Alex Cornell du Houx, D-Brunswick, Lee Auto Malls board chairman Adam Lee, Warm Tech Solutions owner Ashley Richards and property owner Ashley Salisbury. The press conference took place at Salisbury’s multi-unit 26 Brackett St. building, which was the subject of a recent energy efficiency retrofit largely performed by Warm Tech.

The group assembled to highlight state and federal measures promoted in the larger Environment America report “Getting Off Oil: A 50-State Roadmap for Curbing Our Dependence on Petroleum.”

At a state level, Cornell du Houx said it’s crucial the state Legislature continue funding Efficiency Maine programs that encourage home weatherizations, while Lee trumpeted federal proposals to force auto manufacturers to meet minimum fuel efficiency standards of 54 miles per gallon over the next 13 years.

“Mainers … send $5 billion every single year to nations that do not have our best interests in mind,” Cornell du Houx, who has served with the Marine Corps in the Middle East, said of Maine’s dependence on oil. Maine is ranked the fourth most oil-dependent state in the country.

Lee noted that in 1975, Congress gave car makers 10 years to double the fuel efficiency of their vehicles, and although manufacturers complained, they met the standards and reduced pollution.

“The history of my industry is that they don’t do anything to improve safety or efficiency unless they’re mandated to do so,” Lee told members of the assembled media Thursday morning.

Richards said 2,500 Maine homes were weatherized in 2010 using rebates and other funding programs offered by Efficiency Maine. Each home saved an average of $1,400 on annual heating costs because of the work, which ranges in scope from sealing windows to better insulating walls to finding more efficient heating systems.

Richards said that if the state keeps offering funding programs at that pace, 12,500 homes will be made more efficient in five years, saving a total of 15 million gallons of fuel oil and “putting $67 million back in the hands of consumers.”

He said each weatherization project costs a homeowner an average of $6,000, with about $2,500 of that reimbursed by Efficiency Maine. With about $1,400 in savings per year, each project is making money for its homeowner within three years, he said.

But Richards said his company shrank from 20 employees to 12 when the Efficiency Maine funding dried up, suggesting increased funding for the program would restore jobs as well as save money for property owners.

“Last winter, every month when I saw the fuel truck pull in, it was cause for anxiety,” Salisbury said of the 26 Brackett St. property she owns. “Opening that bill felt a little like getting kicked in the head. Ultimately, I had to consider whether I wanted to keep wasting not only my money, but this precious resource as well.”

Not included in the strategy unveiled Thursday was an expansion of natural gas in the state, which LePage said last month he plans to promote during the upcoming legislative session.

The state Legislature has approved goals to reduce Maine’s dependence on oil by 30 percent by 2030, and by 50 percent by 2050. By implementing the state and federal policies detailed in the Environment Maine report promoted Thursday, organization leaders said, Maine could reduce its oil use by 29 percent by 2025 and by 39 percent by 2030.

Most of the steps called for by Environment Maine at the state level involve providing financial incentives for energy efficiencies in homes and transportation systems, as well as shoring up building codes to further promote such efficiencies.

“Natural gas is not a part of this road map,” Emily Figdor, director of Environment Maine, told the Bangor Daily News Thursday. “We’re saying we can do that without turning to other fuel sources that have their own host of environmental problems. We think Maine should be very cautious before we ramp up use of natural gas.”

Seth Koenig

Seth has nearly a decade of professional journalism experience and writes about the greater Portland region.