Maine Governor Paul LePage has recently called for a 50% reduction in the use of oil for heating in the state. Maine is a heavy user when it comes to heating oil. 80% of our homes here are oil heated. To cut that useage in half by 2014 is an ambitious goal, for sure. LePage suggests doing this by switching to natural gas and wood pellets.
There are efforts to move towards natural gas in the state, and I encourage it. It won’t be fast, however. While the distribution system is slowly growing, it is not there now. As for pellets, they are readily available, but if demand for them increases so might cost. Furthermore, most residential wood burning systems require the user to be hands on. The pellets don’t fill the stove themselves, and the ashes don’t empty themselves. This is the same reason why 80% heat with oil instead of wood, also abundant in the Pine Tree state.
What is missing in this discussion is our dependence on BTU’s. In other words, the focus should be on energy use, first, not fuel source. Switching fuels doesn’t solve the problem of inefficient leaky homes heating the great outdoors. It’s like an addict going from one fix to another because it’s cheaper, and they can get more for less. Fuel switching is treating the symptom and not the problem.
Weatherization efforts, increased efficiencies of heating equipment, and fuel switching when it makes sense, can have a much greater impact, and a much lower long term cost, than fuel switching alone. Efficiency Maine and the many contractors who have worked with these programs have been chipping away at this. Tux Turkel from the Maine Sunday telegram reported recently, “Maine residents slashed their heating oil use by 45% between 2004 and 2009.” We routinely save people that much off of their oil bills. Governor, we can do this, but let’s treat the real problem and break our dependence on wasteful heating.
Photo by David L Ryan boston.com