AUGUSTA — A new association of weatherization and construction professionals was born last week with 100 dues-paying members signed on before the first meeting.
The Maine Association of Building Efficiency Professionals conducted its first official business Thursday when it enacted bylaws and elected a board of directors. Conceived just a few months ago over a lobbyist’s kitchen table, the association hopes to ride a wave of activity associated with efforts to transform the state’s reliance on foreign oil into a robust industry that will buoy environmentalists, businesses and homeowners.
Bob Howe, a longtime Augusta lobbyist who has served interests ranging from construction contractors to counties, had an energy audit done on his home in March. Discussions about the audit at Howe’s kitchen table triggered what in retrospect was a fateful question.
“I asked them, ‘Do you guys have a trade organization?’” said Howe, who recalled the conversation recently. “They said no and I responded that we ought to fix that. We realized that there were things going on at the State House that these folks ought to be involved in.”
At the time, lawmakers and government agencies were addressing new energy-related initiatives on multiple fronts. Numerous bills were working their way through the Legislature, some aimed at accomplishing an ambitious energy agenda announced by Governor John Baldacci during his State of the State address in March. State agencies were learning the extent to which federal stimulus dollars would be designated for weatherizing homes in a state where some 80 percent of households rely on heating oil.
Government-level discussions about energy initiatives intensified in 2008 with a massive spike in crude oil prices, but more importantly, according to members and supporters of the new association, public opinions began to shift.
“This is really an indication of the times,” said Pete Didisheim, director of advocacy for the Natural Resources Council of Maine. “When gas gets up to $4.70 a gallon, that’s a wake-up call. People also are becoming aware that we’ve got a climate problem. Part of the way to address the challenge of greenhouse gas warming is to reduce our consumption of fossil fuels. There’s a win-win situation here that more and more people are becoming aware of.”
Aside from environmental factors, Maine’s energy plan has the potential to become an economic driver, said Fortunat Mueller, a principal partner at Portland- and Liberty-based ReVision Energy.
“This is going to become a prime industry, like it should be,” said Mueller. “We were expecting 20 or 30 members at this first meeting and here we have more than a hundred.”
Heather Rae, a project manager for Maine Home Performance, which helps people weatherize their homes, agreed.
“It’s great that we finally have people coming together to talk about building science and sharing experiences,” she said. “It really is a profession that is budding in Maine.”
The Maine Association of Building Efficiency Professionals filed nonprofit incorporation papers in March and Howe registered as its principal lobbyist on April 28. On July 23, the group approved bylaws which define the board of directors as four building efficiency professionals; a manufacturer or supplier; in the “allied” seat, an energy professional who doesn’t fit either of those categories and the organization’s chief executive officer, who has not been named.
The board members elected last week include Douglas Baston of North Atlantic Energy Advisors in Alna for the allied seat and the following building efficiency professionals: Curry Caputo of Sustainable Structures in Whitefield; Richard Burbank of Evergreen Home Performance LLC of Rockland; William Childs of Horizon Builders Inc. of Portland; and Charlie Huntington of I&S Insulation in Wiscasset. There were no candidates in the manufacturer/supplier category, said Howe.
Monitoring the Legislature will be an important part of the organization’s mission, but some members a more valuable function will be educating consumers about the virtues of efficient buildings and each other about the latest technology.
“We’ve come a really way since the 1980s when people ran around with a caulk gun saying your house is leaky, let’s caulk up some windows and doors,” said Rae. “This really is a science.”
Others joined for more practical reasons.
Michael Burke is the executive director of Community Concepts in Paris, which administers some of state and federal programs that improve peoples’ homes.
“I’m here to identify some more talent,” said Burke. “We can always use more talent to do this work.”