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Chilly Threat Seen to Energy-Efficient Maine Homes

March 7, 2011

AUGUSTA, Maine - It was passed in 2008, formally adopted in 2010 and is still being gradually implemented, but Maine's "green-conscious" Building and Energy Code is now the target of some eight legislative efforts to weaken it - or repeal it altogether. Despite evidence that it will save the average Maine homeowner $200 a year - and is projected to save $100 million in energy costs over the next 10 years - the code is under fire.

Jack Meehan, who builds homes around Jefferson, favors the new code.

"I think it's going to be a valuable tool for residents, as well as builders, and I don't really want to see it repealed."

The measures aimed at changing the code are part of what critics call an "assault" on Maine's environment in the form of some 50 bills overall. Some lawmakers argue, as does Gov. LePage, that the changes are necessary in order to create a more "business-friendly" economic climate.

Naomi Mermin, with the Maine Chapter of the U.S. Green Building Council, says her organization worked hard to get the code passed and helped educate the public and industry about it. From her perspective, opposition is coming from people who are simply resistant to change.

"The conversation at this point is: It's the law. Some people are having trouble with that and want to have some adjustment to it. We'll come out of that conversation with some positive adjustments, I really think. I'm sure that there are ways that we can do it even better, in terms of implementation."

Over the years, as he has built houses, Meehan says he has become focused on insulation and its role in saving energy. He admits his views on building codes have shifted accordingly.

"Twenty-five or 30 years ago, I might not have been as willing to give up my freedom to build however I chose, but with the code, we know we're going to have a structurally sound, energy-efficient building."

Naomi Mermin does not buy the argument that the Building and Energy Code needs to be weakened, or eliminated, in order to foster a business-friendly climate in economically troubled times.

"When we build energy-efficient buildings to work in, and have energy-efficient manufacturing, and when people can go home to a safe, warm house where they're not spending a disproportionate amount of their income on heat but they're spending their money in our local economy, that's good for our economy."

Maine is one of 40 states to adopt a statewide building energy code. Nearly half have adopted the same version of the code as Maine.


Mark Scheerer, Public News Service - ME