Monday, February 11, 2008

Maine towns work hard to save energy

Communities make gains at the local level

By David Ramsay
February 11, 2008

KITTERY, Maine — Sixteen Maine towns, including several in southern York County, aren't waiting for the federal government to come up with new costly programs or exotic new technologies to address energy problems and climate change.

Instead, solutions are coming from citizen-led local energy committees in each town, say local community organizers who spoke Thursday evening at the Maine Cool Communities meeting at Kittery Trading Post. The organizers, from Eliot, Kittery and South Berwick, say energy efficiency reduces carbon emissions and saves money — something everyone can support. York residents are also involved in the local effort, but no organizers from that town were present at Thursday's meeting.

Eliot Energy Commission member Laurel McEwen said her town has seen some big achievements recently.

"The big success was that we spent a lot of time researching two ordinances for our town — one for wind, one for solar — and the Planning Board just approved them," she said.

If approved by the Board of Selectmen and later at Town Meeting, homeowners who want to install wind or solar will have a clear set of rules to follow, she said.

"The town now has a baseline for every (public) building in terms of energy use," she said. "Now what remains is to go for the low-lying fruit, which are the immediate energy improvements that will save money and energy."

McEwen said 70 percent of the people responding to a recent comprehensive plan survey support renewable energy and reducing carbon emissions from town facilities and vehicles.

Sarah Brown, a member of Kittery's new energy group, Cool Kittery, said efforts to get town support for energy efficiency have been successful.

"We spent a lot of time educating our Town Council about energy issues, and just two weeks ago six councilors (of seven) voted to pass the Mayor's Climate Protection Agreement," she said.

Under the agreement, the town will perform an inventory that shows how much carbon the town puts into the environment, which will guide the town in making reductions for each department, she said.

"First, we're going to go for basic efficiency stuff that will bring us great savings," she said.

Brown said department officials have been getting involved.

"I had the fire chief come up to me and ask if we could help him outfit his fire station in solar panels and the other fire station with geothermal," she said.

She said the key to the group's recent success was translating the energy savings into dollar savings to help convince members of the community to support the programs.

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