Saturday, June 21, 2008

Two guys with pep to save energy

Portland Press Herald


June 18, 2008

Sam Saltonstall and Pete Dugas want to save you a heap of money.

No, they're not scammers. Nor are they spammers.

They're simply two guys who see what we all see – a looming heating season that has economic catastrophe written all over it – and want to do something about it.

"It sounded too good to be true – and it still may be," said Saltonstall. "We're still trying to figure that out."

He's talking about the fledgling, nonprofit Cambridge (Mass.) Energy Alliance, formed to provide homeowners, businesses and even large institutions in that city with one-stop shopping for conserving all things energy.

Saltonstall, who lives on Peaks Island, takes jazz piano lessons from Dugas, who owns an apartment building in Portland. Upon learning of the Cambridge project a few months ago, they decided to see if such an idea might fly here.

The goal: Provide a clearinghouse where property owners big and small can get an energy audit, find the right contractors to button up their buildings and, in some cases, even obtain low-interest financing from local banks to foot the bill.

In other words, stop bemoaning the skyrocketing cost of energy and start reducing it.

"The problem is many people just don't know where to start," said Saltonstall, "so they do nothing."

Which, these days, is not a good option. Just last week, the Governor's Office of Energy Independence and Security announced it was starting its oil-price monitoring program four months early for the 2008-09 heating season. The current average price in Maine for No. 2 heating oil: $4.60 per gallon.

Saltonstall and Dugas first visited the Cambridge Energy Alliance to find out more about that program. According to project manager Deborah Donovan, such inquiries from other communities now number "in the hundreds."

"Everybody's got a reason to do this now," said Donovan, noting that her alliance has already heard from more than 700 interested property owners in Cambridge.

Next stop for Saltonstall and Dugas was a sit-down with Portland Mayor Ed Suslovic, who spent more than an hour brainstorming with them on how such a venture might work locally. The mayor's first suggestion: expand it beyond Portland.

"It makes so much sense," Suslovic said. "It's foolish to think we can drill our way out of the energy problem."

Next week, Saltonstall and Dugas will visit the Greater Portland Council of Governments to see whether their idea rates inclusion on its regular-meeting agenda. That it should – the council is perfectly positioned to help cultivate this grass-roots response to an ever-escalating global challenge.

For all the work they've put into the project, Saltonstall and Dugas say their goal is not to save the world.

The alliance's mission statement, in fact, makes little mention of reducing Greater Portland's "carbon footprint" – too much of that kind of talk, they feared, might render their plan too political and thus less marketable to the masses.

"So we describe our mission simply as helping people save money on energy," said Saltonstall.

Added Dugas, "We figured everyone can agree on that one."

Columnist Bill Nemitz can be contacted at 791-6323 or at:

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