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Interest in heat pumps and solar surges in Maine, as oil and gas prices spike

"Residential and commercial interest has soared to unprecedented levels in the past two weeks."

FREEPORT, Maine — Maine’s heat pump and solar panel companies are seeing a new surge interest for alternative energy as oil and gas prices rise to record levels in Maine.

Phil Coupe with ReVision Energy, a solar company in South Portland, said Friday:

“We’re so swamped with interest in solar we can’t even handle an interview today,” Coupe wrote in a text message. “Residential and commercial interest has soared to unprecedented levels in the past two weeks.”

Heat pump companies said they are also seeing a bump in traffic.

"The phone's just ringing off the hook. We can't keep up with it,” Scott Libby, CEO of Royal River Heat Pumps, said. “It's going to be a busy Monday."

Libby said they are booked with orders through July, totaling nearly 600 appointments to install heat pumps in homes across Maine.

The Governor's Energy Office lists electric heat pumps as a less expensive method than heating oil and propane.

The units themselves can cost up to $4,500 to install, but there are significant rebates available from the state. 

Efficiency Maine offers up to $800 in rebates for people installing their first heat pump, as long as they do not have natural gas. Low- to moderate-income Mainers can get even larger rebates.

"Obviously the global events of the last week or two weeks has put a finer point on just how exposed our state is and our economy is to imported oil,” Michael Stoddard, Efficiency Maine executive director, said. “Your electric bill is going to go up a little. People should know that. But it won't go up as much as how much you save on your oil. You're going to see much more that way. Heating with heat pumps is the lowest cost heating solution available in Maine.”

"The biggest return on investment is to do a single zone heat pump in your living space. That can pay for itself in two to three heating seasons,” Libby said.

Efficiency Maine and the state offer those rebates on heat pumps they say are specifically meant for cold winters. Stoddard and Libby said the units are still efficient down to 0 and even negative 5 degrees Fahrenheit.

"Do they get less efficient as the temperatures get colder? Yes, that is true. It doesn’t mean they stop working. Your car gets less efficient when you start going up a hill. Does that mean you should stop using your car and get out and walk? No,” Stoddard said.

Stoddard and Libby emphasized the importance of making sure homes are well-insulated before investing in heat pumps. Stoddard said there are rebates for weatherization efforts, too.

They said there are many different types of heat pumps, and that technology has improved drastically in the past 10 years.

"With the improvements that are coming, they're just going to continue to be a viable option and they are now," Libby said. 

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