Andrea Asken Dunn (left) founded Resilient Harrison Maine to help residents in the small western Maine town figure out how to address climate change. Michael Dunn (right) coordinates the heat pump bulk buy program, which adds another layer of savings on top of federal and state incentives to make heat pumps more affordable. Credit: Lori Valigra / BDN

HARRISON, Maine — Andrea Asken Dunn came up with a novel way to get fellow residents of this rural western Maine town interested in addressing climate change with a $250 heat pump discount.

Added to other state and federal incentives, the average Harrison resident now can almost halve the price of a heat pump.

The idea came from Resilient Harrison Maine, a grassroots group that Asken Dunn founded. It surveyed 300 townspeople and discovered that 80 percent were concerned about climate change, but 25 percent didn’t know how to start addressing it on a personal level. At the same time, 34 percent were interested in buying heat pumps in bulk to save money, an idea forwarded by a group member.

Asken Dunn and her husband began calling around to see if any local installers would offer a bulk discount for Harrison residents. Struck by the novelty of the plan, EcoHeat Maine of Norway quickly said yes. The company had already installed a heat pump at the couple’s home.

“EcoHeat can evaluate a lot of houses on the same day in one town and be able to install two to three heat pumps per day,” Asken Dunn said.

The new incentive could be a model for local action on climate change. It is also in line with Gov. Janet Mills’ climate action plan, which calls for installing 100,000 heat pumps across Maine homes by 2025. More than 80,000 have been installed since 2019, according to state data. New federal incentives are also looking to supercharge heat pump adoption.

While $250 may not sound like much, it adds up alongside the other incentives to take a large chunk out of a heat pump’s cost, which is between $5,000 and $6,000. Efficiency Maine offers an $800 rebate on the first heat pump in a home, and low-income Mainers can get an even better deal at up to a $2,000 rebate. A federal tax credit covers up to 30 percent of the cost to buy and install a heat pump.  

Michael Dunn (left) and Andrea Asken Dunn are members of the Resilient Harrison Maine group that Andrea formed to help town residents deal with the effects of climate change. Credit: Lori Valigra / BDN

EcoHeat owner Timothy Adams jumped at the chance to sell in bulk and give buyers a discount. Fujitsu, which manufactures the heat pumps he sells, agreed to allow the discount on top of those credits.

“I give Andrea and Mike full credit for this because I’m not aware of any other program like this,” Adams said.

The program was publicized last week in the local newspaper. Adams has already had three people sign up to buy a unit and another dozen inquiries. He is pleased with the response and plans to expand the savings to the surrounding towns of Sweden and parts of Bridgton. The deal is good through July 4, but it might be extended, he said.

His agreement with Fujitsu requires that he sell at least 10 heat pumps, but he believes he will at least double that. Government backing of heat pumps has helped sales steadily increase to the point where the family-owned company has stopped selling satellite TV products and is now focusing only on heat pumps. Adams is booked to install them until late July.

“Ten years ago, no one knew what a heat pump was,” he said. “Now everyone knows what it is and wants to talk about the right solution for them.”

He said the $250 discount, which applies to each heat pump installed, helps make up for the 7 percent increase in the cost of the products that occurred June 1.

Even with her group’s plan, Asken Dunn thinks Harrison is behind neighboring towns in moving to stem climate change. She pointed to Waterford, which won a $50,000 Community Resilience Partnership grant from the state to reduce carbon emissions. She said her group is trying to get Harrison more interested in applying for such grants.

“A lot of towns in Maine have climate groups, and those on the coast have been taking action because of sea level rise,” she said. “Inland here it’s easy to pretend that it’s not happening to us yet when it really is.”

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...