Originally published in Community News, February 13, 2014
Legislators, local stakeholders discuss home heating “crisis”
State Rep. Louie Luchini (D-Ellsworth) looks on as Rep. Walter Kumiega (D-Deer Isle) discusses resources available to those struggling to heat their home. The legislators attended a public forum discussing the problems with Hancock County home heating. The forum was sponsored by OneHancock on February 7 at Ellsworth City Hall.
by Jessica Brophy
“We have a crisis before us,” said former state senator Dennis Damon at the Ellsworth Public Library on Friday, February 7. “A crisis of people not being able to heat their homes.”
Damon offered these opening remarks to a public forum sponsored by OneHancock, a non-partisan group of Hancock County residents dedicated to political civility and non-partisan cooperation and education on issues important to Maine.
“The cost of fuel has gone up, and the severity of this winter is one of the worst I can remember in awhile,” said Damon.
Three Maine State House Representatives joined the public and members of OneHancock to discuss the problems facing Hancock County residents in relation to home heating.
Lawrence Lockman (R-Amherst), Louie Luchini (D-Ellsworth) and Walter Kumiega (D-Deer Isle) of the Maine House of Representatives were on hand to discuss resources and options at the state level. Local politicians from various communities and representatives from local organizations who deal directly with those in need—such as area churches and Washington Hancock Community Agency—also attended the event.
Kumiega discussed a number of resources available to homeowners and renters, including calling the state’s crisis line at 211. A carpenter by trade, Kumiega focused his comments on the good that weatherization can do to improve the energy efficiency of the housing stock.
“Improvements can pay for themselves in a few years,” said Kumiega. This includes switching from higher-cost heating options like oil to wood pellets. There are some grants available to help people do such work through Efficiency Maine, said Kumiega.
Representative Ralph Chapman (D-Brooksville) was not able to attend the forum, as he was, at that moment, teaching a course on weatherization and home energy auditing.
In a written statement distributed at the meeting, Chapman said weatherization was the “most effective investment” for improving the situation. “We need a Maine-based revolving loan program sufficiently capitalized to deliver weatherization work to all our homes in less than 10 years,” he said.
In a similar vein, Stonington resident Skip Greenlaw advocated for a state bond issue to make monies available for home improvements and weatherization.
Joe Perkins of WHCA said the money available to help weatherize has been cut, as have federal Low Income Heating Energy Assistance Program funds overall. Even when there are funds available, he said, it can be difficult because the funds can’t be used on homes that are in need of other repairs, like a leaky roof.
Lockman said he didn’t think there was a state answer, but rather that there would have to be continued efforts at the community level with “neighbors helping neighbors.”
To that end, a selectman from Gouldsboro said he would like to see the state encourage each community to establish a “community power and heating fund”—and to refrain from cutting revenue sharing with towns, a cut proposed in last year’s budget submitted by Governor Paul LePage.
“It’s easy to say the government should be helping us,” said Damon. “But that shouldn’t be our first, last and only recourse.”
Ellsworth resident Leslie Harlow suggested bringing together all of the various community organizations, community leaders and others to have a single conversation about what could be done to combat the ongoing problem.
For more information on OneHancock, email John Bradford at email@example.com. The group also meets informally on Thursday mornings at the Maine Grind in Ellsworth.