LYNN — Massachusetts is powering up to become the national leader in energy efficiency, announcing sweeping plans to save residents money and create a more energy-savvy Commonwealth.

Gov. Deval Patrick has made the energy efficiency plan a top priority, saying it will help defray climbing energy costs for state residents and businesses.

“These plans provide a roadmap toward a clean energy future that includes more local jobs in the efficiency sector, a cleaner environment thanks to fewer power plant emissions, and lower electric and natural gas bills for consumers residing in more energy efficient, comfortable homes,” Governor Deval Patrick said in a statement.

Funded in part by the state and in part by the federal American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA), the program, which is an offshoot of the state’s 2008 Green Communities Act, will cost taxpayers $2.1 billion — which includes $580 million in customer incentives, which encourage better home insulation, energy efficient windows and appliances. The return though, according to the program’s supporters, is expected to be far greater: $6.2 billion in savings over a three-year period.

That, and the title of national leader in energy efficiency — ahead of even California, long thought to be on top of the green movement.

The state is calling energy efficiency “the Commonwealth’s ‘first fuel,'” insisting that in order to achieve the $6 billion savings, residents must:

  • Re-evaluate their energy use
  • Utilize state rebates and incentives

That is, according to the state, the way for residents to minimize their utility bills.

The new law calls for:

  • 2.4 percent reduction in electricity over the next three years
  • 1.7 percent reduction in natural gas.

In order to achieve this, the Commonwealth has solicited the help of utility companies, NStar, Bay State Gas and Western Mass Electric, who all support the plan. They are stepping up promotion of home and business energy audits The efforts, they say, will compel Commonwealth residents to take part because the cost savings will be too great not to.

“On average, 10 percent of home energy is wasted in Massachusetts,” said Mike Durand, spokesman for NStar. “Open refrigerators, lights on, unchecked thermostats…We want customers to be aware. The more information they have about their energy use, the more wisely they will use it. They’re going to pay less, and their bills are going to go down,” Durand said.

But despite the suspicious logic of utility companies trying to drive down the cost of their own customer’s energy bills, they say it will be good business.
“It benefits everyone,” said Durand. “If a customer is using the bulk of their electricity in the summer, we address that. If we can lower the peak demand, we don’t have to use this peak (expensive) equipment. It’s beneficial to us and the customers. Wiser use of power is a regional, as well as environmental issue.”
Still, the execution of such a grand-scaled plan presents challenges, chief among them how to get residents on board of what is a voluntary program. State officials say they hope the investment is worth the return.

“It’s a $2 billion investment, and we hope everyone will hop on board,” said Lisa Capone, spokeswoman for the Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs (EOEEA). “The more you do the more you have the opportunity to save. Energy efficiency is actually the most cost effective way to do it, and it’s a huge step that makes Massachusetts the clear leader,” she said.

According to the state, the energy efficiency plan will achieve savings “comparable to the environmental benefits achieved by taking approximately 1,622,000 cars off the road, by annually sequestering carbon in a pine forest roughly the size of 38 percent of the entire state, or by recycling 3.0 million tons of waste instead of sending it to the landfill.”

Residents are already seeing the rebates at work. The frenzy of the recent appliance exchange rebate program proved successful, at least in interest. In the first two hours alone, 26,500 residents took advantage of the program, changing in their old appliances for new, energy efficient counterparts. In total, the state dolled out nearly $7.7 million to residents looking to cash in on energy savings, paid for by both federal and state programs.

The state’s solar rebate program has also garnered interest, as people increasingly look to drive down their energy bills with renewable energy.
Bill Mellen of Lynn took advantage of the last round of solar rebates put up by the Commonwealth, saying the long-term savings is well worth the initial investment.

“It’s not just for us, it’s for the the future. And it adds value to our home which isn’t taxed and will never be taxed. I don’t think we would have done it without the rebates,” he said of the $45,000 solar panel fixture which sits atop his roof. For more about Mellen’s experience, view video above.

Additionally, the state claims the new initiative will generate 3,100 “green” jobs over the next three years, though it does not specify where the new positions will be created.

Finally, Massachusetts justifies the upfront cost of the incentives and rebates by predicting a far-reaching economic effect.

“One way that energy efficiency affects consumers and businesses is by reducing energy costs, thereby allowing the money saved to be spent elsewhere, thus stimulating the economy.”

About The Author

Blast Magazine Correspondent Katy Jordan is a regular news contributor to The Boston Herald

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