Maine is believed to be one of the most oil-dependent states in the country – and among the states with some of the oldest (and potentially draftiest) housing stock. Nearly 60 percent of homes in Maine rely on oil for heat. Comparatively, only 4 percent of homes in the rest of the nation are heated with oil. Thanks to skyrocketing costs, homeowners can expect to pay twice as much for No. 2 heating oil this winter than they did last year. The price per gallon of heating oil currently stands at more than $5.
Governor Janet Mills last week asked the federal government to send more money to help low-income residents with winter fuel bills. But for all Mainers, paying twice as much for anything is going to hurt their bottom line. Mills not only asked for additional funds to flow into the state but also asked the federal government to expand eligibility to help those who will now struggle because of the increased cost.
“These conditions make Maine distinctly vulnerable to the increased prices and volatility the global fossil fuel market is experiencing,” Mills said in the letter to the Biden administration, which was also sent to the state’s congressional delegation.
In a good year, the average household spends nearly $1,200 during the winter months and Maine consumers spend more than $4 billion annually to import fossil fuels into the state.
Assistance through Maine’s Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) is limited to low-income families, with income limits ranging from $30,860 a year for a single person to $59,348 for a family of four to $85,461 for a family of 10. Maine typically receives about $40 million in heating assistance for LIHEAP, which helps between 35,000 to 40,000 households.
“For vulnerable Maine households, this is the difference between having heating security during our coldest months for perhaps only days or weeks, instead of months,” Mills said.
LIHEAP is a short-sighted program that year after year helps many of the same families get through the winter. While assistance through LIHEAP will certainly help families stay warm for the winter, investing in proper weatherization will help them stay warm for many winters to come. Literally, those dollars are going into an oil tank and in many cases right out a drafty window. We can do better than that.
We need to allocate funds for weatherization and heating system upgrades that will reduce the overall need to continue to purchase fossil fuels. State leaders need to support legislation that will allow homeowners and local nonprofit organizations to partner with area businesses and community colleges to ensure the workforce necessary to help our neighbors upgrade their homes so that they can weather the winter in a more sustainable way.
Efficiency Maine, which oversees a variety of grant, rebate and low-income loan programs to help homeowners throughout the state be more energy efficient, has tools on its website to estimate costs and find qualified installers. It also has tips on how to save energy.
Heating season might still be a few months away, but now it the perfect time to learn your options and button up those drafty parts of the house if you are able. Spend some time researching available programs and see what might work for you.