‘Consumers were curious to learn if they could save money’

‘Consumers were curious to learn if they could save money’

One of the smallest states in the union is staking a claim as a clean energy leader.

Maine, home to just 1.4 million people, has turned to heat pumps to keep citizens warm in the cold winter months. Demand was still surging for the newly popular technology one year after record prices for heating fuels, Energy News Network reported in December.

The state hopes to use 80% renewable energy by 2030, and the war in Ukraine spiked the cost of dirty-energy oils and gases. In November, prices were down more than $2 per gallon year-over-year for heating oil and kerosene, while propane was about $1 cheaper, according to Energy News Network.

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High prices have led homeowners to seek more affordable heating alternatives.

“We do see a lot more visits [after a price spike] to the Efficiency Maine website and call center, looking for information about rebates and how to find a contractor,” Michael Stoddard, executive director of Efficiency Maine, told Energy News Network.

“Traditionally these consumers were curious to learn if they could save money by switching to propane or natural gas, or burning firewood or pellets. But now it seems they are mostly interested in switching to heat pumps because they cost less to operate and deliver air conditioning in the summer.”

Mainers could also benefit from the U.S. Department of Energy’s Residential Cold Climate Heat Pump Technology Challenge, which has resulted in a development push.

By early November, residents had bought 4,000 more heat pumps than they did in all of 2022, and contractors are working to meet demand despite supply chain issues and the reduction in those prices for traditional fuels.

Even with high electricity rates, though, heat pumps don’t cost as much as oil- or gas-based heating, and it shows in the number of people who are making the switch. In 2022, Energy News Network reported that 56% of Mainers used heating oil, down from over 60% in much of the past decade. Electric heat users rose to almost 11% from 6% in that span.

After the Pine Tree State reached its objective of installing 100,000 heat pumps by 2025 a year and a half early, Gov. Janet Mills set the bar higher: 175,000 heat pumps by 2027.

“From 2018-2022, Maine saw a 10 percent decrease in heating oil as a primary fuel for home heating with an increase in households utilizing electricity during that time,” the Governor’s Energy Office stated in a news release.

“The period coincides with record adoption of high efficiency air source heat pumps in Maine.”

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