January 25, 2010 | last updated December 1, 2011 3:59 am

Lighting the way | A well-known face in Maine's auto world champions energy efficiency in Augusta

Photo/Tim Greenway
Photo/Tim Greenway
Adam Lee, chair of the Efficiency Maine Trust Board

Adam Lee has his work cut out for him. As the chair of the new Efficiency Maine Trust Board, Lee and his eight board members are building a new organization from the ground up — an organization charged with developing a plan for achieving the state's lofty energy-efficiency goals, doling out $42 million and finding an executive director for the trust. And they must do it all without any staff besides a recently hired part-time person.

Lee, the third-generation president of family-owned Lee Auto Malls, has plenty of experience as a leader, but this newest venture presents unique challenges. "We needed an accounting firm and a search firm, but we didn't have a checkbook, so we couldn't pay anybody," he says. "But we couldn't open a checking account because we needed an accountant's advice on what kind of account to open."

Last July, the Legislature created the Efficiency Maine Trust, which will meld the efforts of the Maine Energy Conservation Board and the Energy Carbon and Savings Trust, which directs the funds from the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative. This July, both organizations will cease to exist, and the trust will take over programs to help businesses and homeowners make energy-efficient upgrades.

Lee, an outspoken advocate of stricter auto emissions regulations, served on both the energy conservation and carbon and savings boards, making him a natural fit for the new Efficiency Maine Trust.

The trust provides a revamp of the state's energy efforts, a process that, ironically, wasn't very efficient. "Consolidating things makes the business of energy efficiency far more efficient," Lee says. "There was a lot of overlap, and all the members of the boards were very much in favor of this. We felt at times that we were stepping on each other's toes."

The board has been meeting since September to work on the trust's triennial plan. The goals, dictated by the Legislature, include weatherizing 100% of Maine homes and 50% of Maine businesses by 2030, and hitting various benchmarks for reducing greenhouse gas emissions and achieving energy savings by 2020. Lee hopes to hire an executive director in the next few weeks.

Before the end of January, the board will have held three meetings for feedback on the draft plan from stakeholders like paper and power companies, oil dealers and environmentalists — an important first step in moving the trust forward, Lee says. "We're quasi-governmental, but we are an independent organization — we don't necessarily answer to the governor or the Public Utilities Commission. We report to them, but we also report to the stakeholders," he says. "We need to do what's best for Maine and what's best for the stakeholders."

The trust's budget comes from the $12 million Efficiency Maine receives a year, mostly from a charge levied against electricity users, as well as another $12 million from the sale of carbon allowances through RGGI auctions. The organization also has about $36 million in stimulus funds over a two-year period. The board is already figuring out how to increase the trust's budget once the stimulus money goes away, including bonds and new models that would allow consumers to pay back loans for energy-efficient upgrades.

Funding will likely be the organization's biggest hurdle. The Legislature's long-term energy goals are estimated to cost $5.4 billion over the next 20 years, while the trust's guaranteed funding will only hit $500 million. "The question becomes, how realistic are our objectives and goals?" Lee says. "We do believe it is our mission to fulfill these objectives, but what's the likelihood of getting additional sources of funding, so we can achieve what the Legislature asked us to achieve?"


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