I think, once the Legislature returns in January, I’m going to invite my local delegation for a tour of my cellar. We’ll have to go one-at-a-time though, because the cellar has the same rough dimensions as the engine room of a World War II submarine, just with worse aesthetics.

Down there, I’ll first show our solons my oil furnace, a 1960s-era monstrosity that cranks out twice as much heat from my chimney as into my two-story home. It’s a functional beast, reliable as the sunrise and just about as warming, but as inefficient as 16 Cadillacs in today’s Prius world.

It’s a unit that boiler technicians should tell their kids about at bedtime to scare them into becoming attorneys or physicists. And I think my delegation needs to see it, because the next frontier for Maine’s consumer energy policy starts in cellars like mine.

I will soon replace my furnace. Yet many of its aged brothers and sisters will still be chugging away, sucking up funds from household budgets and strained assistance programs.

Maine, after all, possesses the highest percentage of oil-heated homes, and the oldest housing stock, in the nation.

These are well-known facts. So when the first oil spike hit in 2008, Maine embraced the dogma of weatherization, which preaches roofs, walls and windows should come first, to keep heat from escaping. While true, weatherization only insulates the problem, it doesn’t solve it.

(And money for weatherization is running out. A state rebate for weatherizing called the Home Energy Savings Program, for example, recently ran dry, according to MPBN. )

Other plans, such as the clever Property Assessed Clean Energy loan program, are available, but are moving slowly across the state. PACE also suffers from economics; the 5 percent interest rate it is offering on efficiency loans is, for example, higher than most mortgage rates at the moment.

So more can be done. Maine spends a great deal of energy on energy policy, but has only dented the problem on a consumer level.

Maine is still full of older, poorly insulated homes with inefficient heating sources. The last time oil was this expensive, only a total economic collapse relieved the pressure.

If my grizzled old furnace doesn’t scare our lawmakers, maybe that will.

Once done with the boiler, I’ll then show my guests the tall torpedo-tube and box-shaped contraptions that filter my well water for all kinds of nasty things, such as arsenic and uranium. The baddies are invisible, but toxic. I’m glad to have the system and gladder about the testing that required it.

People should know when their well water could be dangerous. Yet the state Department of Health and Human Services nixed a $70,000 grant proposal this year to continue public education efforts about testing well water for such chemicals.

While the rationale for denying the grant was ineffectiveness in informing the public, the subject matter — bad water — necessitated greater effort, not going silent.

I discovered my well water was so contaminated only when the bank required a water test before it would lend me money to buy my home.

My filtration system is not pretty, and occupies about one-third of my cellar floorspace. It gives the home a gentle vibration when operating, which always unnerves guests. Yet this mild inconvenience settles the mind wonderfully, considering the alternative.

Maine does not require private well-testing, but it should. If we’re to inspect our cars every year, it seems checking our water supplies makes sense as well. Even with the filter, I will test our water to ensure the system is working properly.

Beyond the filter and furnace there’s not much else for lawmakers to see in my cellar. Just a washer and dryer, an oil tank, some shelves and cobwebs. I’m sure, if given some time, I can relate a pressing public policy concern to each of them.

Then again, I think I will have shown them enough.

Anthony Ronzio is editor and publisher of the Kennebec Journal and Morning Sentinel. Email to [email protected]


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