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Energy, Local Action, Thanksgiving

Paul Kando

It all started with a conversation back in 2006 about why some of our neighbors wanted a Walmart Superstore in Damariscotta, even though it would have destroyed our Maine Street businesses. The answer boiled down, to hopes that a Walmart’s taxes would keep our collective tax bill down even as it brought much needed jobs to town. Walmart built its store in Rockland and we still have our beloved Main Street. But what about those jobs?

"YES" on cap, the hat that started it all.
photo credit: Institute for Local Self-Reliance

A few of us explored that question and decided that focusing on climate and environment friendly alternatives to fossil fuels was the better avenue for job creation in our increasingly globalized world. Upgrading the energy efficiency of houses, for instance, is work that cannot be outsourced. Nor can solar panel installation. So the Midcoast Green Collaborative was born: a non-profit with an action plan. One of us took energy auditor training and got certified by the state. A grant helped us purchase hundreds of dollars worth of equipment. Our two-person auditor team has since conducted over 300 energy audits and we estimate that as a result our clients reduced their collective fuel consumption by 150,000 gallons/year of heating oil, or equivalent.

We organized three well attended annual Energy Expos, relying mostly on volunteer labor, providing a stage for fledging alternative energy businesses and offering energy seminars for the public. Once others around the state picked up the idea, our catalyst role was over. We now focus on energy education. We research and write energy-related articles and contribute a weekly energy column. We hold a number of forums, classes and workshops each year. Most importantly we are always ready to help.

Hundreds of area houses have been weatherized and over 120 kilowatts of rooftop solar panels have been installed, including the first ownership-based solar farm. This spring we visited Vermont’s Green Mountain Power Company (GMP), the nation’s only public utility certified as a B-corporation. Beyond providing electric power, this innovative company provides a number of additional services aimed at minimizing rate payers’ energy consumption while also improving the efficiency of the power grid. GMP has actively lobbied to expand rather than rescind net metering. A profitable company, it has cut rates four times in as many years. Their newest venture is establishing smart microgrids across Vermont – something we follow with great interest.

We are also actively at work on developing a comprehensive energy policy for Maine, free of undue lobbyist influence and pro fossil fuel bias. With 2016 shaping up to be yet another record-hot year and Gulf of Maine fisheries under threat, this is the least we can do.

From Walmart to energy — one lesson of the past decade is that no matter where you begin, getting together tends to bear good results. Now it’s time to give thanks for the opportunity to do some good over our Collaborative’s ten year existence and for each and everyone who have participated in this work, listened, encouraged or constructively criticized. Thanks, most of all, for the community we have become.