We the people of New Hampshire have been robbing ourselves blind.

We have been passing up a major opportunity to preserve wealth, instead spending more than necessary on heating fuels.

New Hampshire apparently has not realized how much wealth could be garnered, or how rapidly it might accumulate, with purposeful, competent, and ambitious energy efficiency programs focused on making houses and other buildings easier and cheaper to heat.

Perhaps part of the reason for this might be that publicity about cheap and easy ways to save little bits of energy have fostered the impression that energy efficiency is about little tweaks — when what’s most needed is significant retrofits carefully tailored for each individual building’s requirements and vulnerabilities.

Massachusetts offers an example: it has had an aggressive energy efficiency program for a quarter of a century or more. And it has been producing wealth. Wealth generation from energy efficiency goes like this: Since measures like insulation and such are durable, a single year’s worth of energy efficiency projects will produce a non-ending “savings stream” of annual fuel savings. Energy efficiency work done in the next or any other following year will also each produce an additional savings stream, just starting one year later. Over the years these add up in a remarkable fashion, such that the total gain in wealth not only grows, but grows faster and faster (accelerates). This has produced an accelerating growth in wealth available to the Massachusetts economy, which has been reducing its statewide electric power demand for several years. As a bonus, energy efficiency programs create good new jobs worth doing.

Massachusetts’ Mass Save program offers free assessments — a friend told me of an auditor coming in with a box of CFL bulbs (today they’d be LEDs) and systematically replacing every incandescent bulb in the house, before verifying the total lack of insulation in the walls and then writing an insulation contract giving her seven years at 0 percent to pay back her 25 percent of the project’s costs remaining after the program’s subsidies.

All of our surrounding states have, for years, been saving their residents money through such programs. Several years ago New Hampshire joined them and other states in a regional project (RGGI) which aims to reduce CO2 emissions in the utilities sector while yielding funds for states to implement additional programs, such as money-saving residential and commercial energy efficiency.

Sadly, New Hampshire instead dissipates its share by distributing it to ratepayers at about 90 cents per month per household, as if we could think of nothing better to do with $5 million a year. (There once had been a tactical justification for that distribution but it’s long since gone.)

New Hampshire could have been doing energy efficiency work and gaining significant savings. Instead, that potential wealth has gone to the fossil fuel industry instead of remaining in our economy for our residents.

Fortunately, at last, right now there is competent work going on to launch our own programs in New Hampshire. But politics is a strange animal, and politics about energy efficiency in New Hampshire have been difficult. Any proposals — whether offered by outside lobbyists or blinkered politicians — that would hinder or delay our launching and maintaining quality energy efficiency program(s) will need to be carefully examined.

John Mann of Alstead represents Cheshire District 2 in the N.H. House, sitting on the House Science, Technology and Energy Committee.