Officials from the Cape Light Compact are holding meetings on the Cape and the Vineyard in November to discuss their proposed 2009 energy efficiency plan. The Vineyard meeting was held last night at the high school.

This energy efficiency road show may be lost in the busy lives of many residents. Who has time to think about this? Well, whether you know it or not, you almost certainly pay a fee each month to support the compact. And they want comment on whether to increase that fee to expand energy efficiency programs, which are a crucial piece of any plan to solve our dependence on polluting and dwindling fossil fuels. Maybe this is something worth paying attention to.

The Cape Light Compact is an inter-governmental agency and a municipal aggregator — it buys power on behalf of all 21 towns in Barnstable and Dukes counties and gets a better deal because it is buying larger quantities. The compact also operates an energy efficiency program within its service area.

The compact is funded, in part, through an energy conservation surcharge that is included in your electric bill. The crux of the compact’s proposed 2009 plan is a significant expansion of its energy efficiency programs.

Maggie Downey, who heads up the compact, says her organization is responding to a public outcry. Users, she says, have complained about a backlog for the Compact’s free home energy audits. Other people have gotten the result of their audits but have not taken the recommended steps because the incentives were too low. The compact is expanding its programs to address these issues, but that costs money. And part of that money is going to have to come from us — the people who use the electricity.

According to compact documents, a typical household, which uses about 500 kilowatt hours of electricity per month, pays an energy conservation surcharge of about $1.65 on each bill. For this average household, the additional cost each month would be about one dollar. For a business ratepayer who uses 3,000 kilowatt hours per month, the current surcharge is about $7.50; the additional charge would be $6.

Aside from reducing the audit backlog, the compact is proposing sweetened financial incentives for energy efficiency efforts, including increasing the insulation incentive from $1,500 to $2,000 per household and expanding the pool of applicants who can apply for a solar domestic hot water rebate.

Ms. Downey says the purpose of the traveling presentations is to gauge whether people really want to pay the extra surcharge in exchange for the extra services. She is encouraging ratepayers to take a survey that will answer this question (a link is available on the front page of the CLC Web site, You can also find more details on the increased energy efficiency services and the proposed plan).

People should always be aware of additional charges, fees or taxes that are being levied on them. In this harsh economic climate, most will not require encouragement or prodding to watch every penny going out the door. But in this case, the minimal cost should prove to be well worth the investment.

In the interest of full disclosure it should be noted that my organization — the Vineyard Energy Project — works with and receives some support from the Cape Light Compact. The philosophy of the VEP, however, is to encourage any and all well-planned and well-organized energy efficiency projects on the Island.

Why does the VEP believe so strongly in energy efficiency? After all, the hottest topic in the energy field these days is renewable energy — generated from wind, solar, geothermal or tidal power. It is energy efficiency, however, that offers the greatest short-term reward if we can make it a reality. Energy efficiency is a crucial, and indispensable, piece of any long-term solution to the energy crisis.

If we are going to take substantive steps toward making the Vineyard energy independent, we will need to increase our renewable energy generation and become more efficient with our energy use. Both sides of the problem must receive equal attention.

Ms. Downey says that while it costs eight to twelve cents per kilowatt hour to produce new electricity, it costs only three to four cents per kilowatt hour to save electricity through energy efficiency measures.

Use electricity more wisely and save money in the long term? That sounds like a good deal to me.

David McGlinchey is director of the Vineyard Energy Project. His e-mail address is