Most people, when they think of Maine, think of moose or winters so cold they conjure up life on Hoth. It’s no surprise that home heating fuel is one of the state’s most vital commodities, and the current energy crisis is hitting Mainers especially hard.
I went to college in Maine and lived there for just under five years. Mainers are tough. When you ask about winter, they usually shrug their shoulders. This year is different. This year, they are also worried.
They fear they can afford to heat their homes. Pensioners and the elderly are particularly affected, as fixed incomes mean heating costs drain money for other essentials.
While gasoline prices have caught the eye, it’s heating oil that’s most important in Maine, where snow is known to fly as early as October. Nearly 60% of Maine homes use fuel oil, compared to just 4% nationally. Combine this addiction with Maine’s elderly population (the oldest in the country), and a depressing picture emerges. The Biden administration’s fossil fuel restriction will force older Mainers, many of them on fixed incomes, to pay massive amounts of their monthly income to heat their homes.
With soaring oil prices over the past year, the price of heating oil in Maine has more than doubled from $2.55 per gallon in May 2021 to $5.86 per gallon in May 2022 .
It’s no wonder the Maine government has appealed for federal heating oil assistance, asking for $38.7 million to fund its Low-Income Heating Assistance Program (LIHEAP) to help families. poor to keep warm. But when fuel oil stays close to $5 a gallon (as it has since March), $40 million only gets you to heat the 40,000 households currently enrolled in the program. Even with the additional funding, LIHEAP would only provide enough funds to fill half a tank of fuel oil for every household in Maine.
For many Maine residents, the state’s request for fuel oil assistance is simply too late. Fuel oil hit a record high of $6 a gallon at the start of the summer. State and federal leaders did not ask for federal aid until late July, despite numerous warnings.
Federal lawmakers have made overtures to President Biden to limit natural gas exports and release more oil from the Northeast Heating Oil Reserve and the Strategic Petroleum Reserve. The cost of converting an oil-fired home heating system to a natural gas system starts at $2,000, and upgrading an existing oil-fired home heating system can cost between $8,000 and $10,000. . For most Mainers on fixed incomes, this is prohibitively expensive.
As Maine grapples with gas prices that are still above $4 a gallon and its residents prepare to spend the third highest amount on food in the entire country, the state is ready for a perfect economic winter storm. While costs are rising, revenues have remained below the national average.
The Biden administration’s ambitious goals for a transition to renewable energy, while well-intentioned, are clearly disconnected. A simple temperature check in Maine shows they need to be adjusted. Maine needs oil and gas now. Climate change may be a pressing concern for our country’s future, but the strangulation of the oil industry leaves Maine in the cold today. Biden must ease restrictions on federal leases for oil drilling, if only for the season. By promoting a multifaceted energy portfolio, it could encourage the development of renewable energies while protecting states still dependent on oil.
Maine is a huge state, with over 60% of the population living in rural areas. The inhabitants of these isolated areas are hardy and self-sufficient, sometimes living as close to the grid as possible. These people don’t need colder winters. But thanks to current energy policies, that is precisely what they will get.
Roy Mathews is a graduate of Bates College in Lewiston, Maine, and previously worked at Aii, an energy think tank in Washington, D.C.