Dylan Voorhees of the Natural Resources Council of Maine speaks during a news conference in Portland in this BDN file photo. Voorhees released a statement in opposition to the Maine Public Utilities Commission's approval of $158 million for energy efficiency projects, a reduction compared to previous years.

The Maine Public Utilities Commission said Wednesday that it approved $158.2 million for energy efficiency improvements for Maine residents and businesses.

While PUC commissioners touted the move as “cost effective” and one that would still position commercial and industrial customers to be competitive, environmental advocates blasted the allocation as a deep cut compared to funding offered in previous years.

The PUC commissioners unanimously approved the funding, which will be administered by the Efficiency Maine Trust.

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The money is for the three years from July 1, 2019 through June 30, 2022.

“We reviewed the EMT plan carefully and evaluated the cost-effectiveness of all proposed measures,” said Commissioner R. Bruce Williamson.

Williamson said the PUC approved funding for all of the measures that it determined would likely be cost-effective over time.

“Because some of the measures that were included in the EMT plan were not cost-effective, those measures did not receive funding,” he said.

Commissioner Randall Davis said that “the cost-effective measures do include programming for low-income customers as well as commercial and industrial customers. The industrial measures we reviewed will hopefully make that sector even more competitive in this global economy.”

The Natural Resources Council of Maine said the approved funds amount to dramatic cuts to Efficiency Maine’s proposed three-year plan.

PUC staff recommendations in an Examiner’s Report issued May 2 amounted to a nearly 20 percent cut to Efficiency Maine’s proposed annual budgets, the NRCM said in a statement. The environmental advocacy group said the decreased funding also reduces help for Mainers to save money on their energy bills.

“The PUC’s systematic bias against energy efficiency is hurting Maine people, stifling our economy, and undermining our ability to accelerate the transition to a lower-cost clean energy future,” Dylan Voorhees, Clean Energy Director at the Natural Resources Council of Maine, said in a statement.

Vorhees said the PUC used a biased approach to valuing energy efficiency savings.

The PUC approved $18 million for efficient heat pumps and $4.6 million for air sealing and insulation in homes.

For commercial and industrial locations, it approved $1.2 million for efficient heat pumps, $2.8 million for efficient boilers, $9.8 million for efficient drives and pumps and $10.3 million for customer-specific projects.

The PUC also approved $45.2 million for efficient lighting for all customers.

The energy efficiency plan includes a formula to calculate how cost-effective a proposed project is. While the PUC approved funding for a wide range of different projects, it used a different calculation than Efficiency Maine, resulting in less money being allocated across the board than Efficiency Maine requested.

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Lori Valigra, investigative reporter for the environment, holds an M.S. in journalism from Boston University. She was a Knight journalism fellow at M.I.T. and has extensive international reporting experience...