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Toward an Energy-Self-Reliant Damariscotta Region

by: Paul Kando

In round numbers, Maine has 400,000 housing units, 80% of which are heated with oil, kerosene, or liquid petroleum gas (LP gas, propane). The average Maine home burns 1,000 gallons of fuel oil or equivalent a year At $4.00 a gallon that is $4,000 per house and $1.6 billion for the State of Maine - 1.6 billion dollars leaving the Maine economy every single year.

Based on data derived from over 300 energy audits we know that the average Maine house could cut its heating energy consumption in half, by improvements that will pay back from the energy cost-savings within 7 years. If such savings could be realized for all 400,000 Maine houses, the cumulative savings of $800 million would boost the Maine economy. Consider how many jobs that amount of money would create!

We local citizens do not have the power and wherewithal to bring this about - at least not directly. But we may have a shot at achieving a similar economic feat on the scale of greater Damariscotta, where, again in round numbers, we may have 5,000 houses burning $20 million worth of petroleum-based fuel. Cutting that consumption in half would yield a net gain of $10 million for our local economy. (We could think of going further once we have achieved this goal.)

When we succeed locally, we become a model for other communities to emulate. Who knows, maybe the whole state....

What will it take? Basically four things: (1) A decision to do it. (2) Marshaling or local resources - human, material, and financial. (3) Organizing for success. (4) Influencing and capitalizing on supportive state and federal policies (e.g. energy incentives and other legislation). A key element of all four is to secure the "buy-in" of as many people as possible. However, at the start a relatively few committed people will suffice.

Below is the basic outline of one scenario for consideration, comment and improvement:

  1. LD 1085 (the Act), soon to be submitted to the legislature would provide for a Feed-in Tariff (FiT) for renewably generated electricity fed into the grid by distributed generators under 500 kilowatt capacity. The FiT would guarantee a set price for the electricity produced, calibrated to cover the cost of the system plus a reasonable return on the investment, to be paid by the local utility under a 20 year contract. The FiT will be set by the Public Utilities Commission. The FiT will be highest at the beginning, to provide incentive to act sooner rather than later. It will provide a premium price for systems installed early, then, over years, gradually decrease to match the prevailing retail rate.
    Renewable energy sources covered by this legislation include:
    • solar photovoltaic panels
    • solar thermal/concentrating systems
    • systems fueled by methane derived from sewage, landfills, and other organic wastes
    • systems fueled by biomass
    • tidal power systems
    • wind power

  2. Financial viability and success for a distributed electric generator covered under the Act will hinge on the efficiency of the generator's overall system and its operation. The more electricity produced, the greater the return; the less electricity used by the generator, the more there is to sell, the less there is to buy. Therefore the Act, properly utilized, provides an incentive to maximize not only generating system efficiency, but also the efficiency of the operator's house or other building, and the energy efficiency of a business' daily operations.
  3. A local cooperative - a corporation operating for the benefit of its members, rather than outside shareholders, directors and top management - could benefit its member owners by providing
    • assessments of their houses/sites to determine the best system options under the Act (e.g., solar panels, small wind, biomass, etc.)
    • energy audits of their buildings/facilities resulting in recommendations to achieve maximum energy efficiency
    • discounted prices on generating equipment and materials, e.g. solar panels insulation, through bulk purchases at wholesale prices
    • reduced installation costs through negotiated contracts with installers, or by the cooperative's own crews
    • weatherization and house/building improvement services at discounted rates by means of negotiated contracts with contractors, or the cooperative's own crews
    • financing of systems and improvements through negotiated deals with a federal credit union (itself a cooperative), private member-investors, or local banks
  4. The cooperative could be started by
    • partial grant financing
    • a number of founding members making an initial investment (e.g., 150 households/businesses investing $1,000 each = $150,000)
    • ?
  5. The cooperative could be financed by
    • markups on wholesale-purchased equipment and materials
    • a percentage of profits from co-owned systems
    • fees on discount-contracts negotiated
    • fees on services provided to non-members (e.g., energy audit fees, rehab contracts)
  6. Details to be determined