Midcoast Green
Collaborative

Bringing green businesses to midcoast Maine.

Midcoast Green Collaborative > Mission

Working to make Damariscotta a center for a sustainble, socially responsible and balanced economy, serving people’s needs in harmony with the environment

The Midcoast Green Collaborative was formed by a group of local citizens concerned about global warming and consequent climate change as well as our currently unsustainable economic system. A number of nations recognize the connection between the two and are willing to treat it as a business opportunity, particularly in the area of renewable, alternative energy products and services. China is one example: a scant few years ago their share of the world solar cell market was 1% .Then they introduced a feed-in tariff for electricity, creating a huge domestic market. Today they are world leaders with a greater than 33% market share.

Our intention is to put the Damariscotta area on the map as one of Maine’s premier sustainably living communities, where family farms and businesses offering wholesome food, maximum energy efficiency, alternative energy products and services and sustainable transportation flourish and grow, and living wage paying jobs are created. Because renewable energy and small farming are inherently local, the jobs created will not be easily outsourced to distant lands.

Our first project was to establish a Sustainable Energy Fair as a local annual event. The first “Expo" took place just before Earth day 2007 and was, by all accounts, a well attended success, featuring over 40 exhibitors and a number of educational programs. Expos have been held annually since, around Earth Day.

Our current emphasis is research and public education in our respective areas of expertise. Solutions to the world’s problems are apparent. What is often lacking is motivation and the individual and political will to act. This is most often the result of lack of information – or deliberate misinformation. The following, in expanded outline form, is a brief summary of our take on the problems we currently face and our vision of how to deal with them.

Climate

Climate is essentially the product of the interaction of heat (energy), air and water. This is true on the planetary scale as well as inside any comfort-conditioned building. The life-sustaining range of global temperatures is rather narrow.

Climate Change

Climate change is driven by global warming, caused primarily by anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions. The gases accumulating in the atmosphere upset the planet’s thermal balance by trapping more solar heat than can be dissipated into space. The main source of man-made greenhouse gases is our use of fossil fuels. When a carbon-rich fuel is burned, carbon dioxide is released into the atmosphere where it remains for decades. The following summarizes the problem:

  • < 300 parts per million (ppm) atmospheric carbon level existed for over 600,000 years
  • 350 ppm atmospheric carbon level would sustain climate conditions as we knew them
  • 388 ppm is the atmospheric carbon level today and it is rising
  • 450 ppm atmospheric carbon level will result in a 2ºC global average temperature rise; far more in polar regions. Serious climate effects will result. The need to adjust will be unavoidable but the changes may still be reversible over time, provided man-made greenhouse gas emissions stop
  • Business as usual (no curtailment of greenhouse gas emissions) will likely result in a 6ºC global temperature rise by the end of this century. Catastrophic climate change will result to which adjustment will not likely be possible. This is because the basic conditions for life as we know it will be jeopardized. And the accumulation of greenhouse gases, combined with massive feedback effects (such as the release of frozen methane from arctic ice) will make the changes to the planet’s climate irreversible.
  • Necessary action: (1) curtail and stop carbon emissions (stop using fossil fuels) to limit warming to 2ºC rise. We do not have time to waste. (2) do everything possible to reduce and stabilize the atmospheric carbon level at 350 ppm -- by allowing/ hastening the collapse of man-made systems that are unsustainable and creating a sustainable economy in their place. (3) Piecemeal action on the margins will not work. We must address all major sectors of the economy comprehensively.

Economic Sectors

The major economic sectors to be addressed include:

  • Electric power generation
  • Buildings (residential and non-residential)
  • Transportation
  • Industry
  • Food and Agriculture

These sectors overlap and there are interactions between them. A comprehensive approach to each must be based on a strategy to address them all. Some key elements: Fossil fuel use (short terms) must be limited to facilitating the transition to a renewable energy based economy. Bogus solutions (“clean coal", carbon trading, etc.) must be avoided – they are time and resource wasters and can even result in increased fossil fuel use. The unsustainability of the current, growth-at-all-cost economic system must be recognized.

Nuclear power is not a viable alternative to fossil fuels. It is way too expensive, relies on uranium, which is a limited resource. It is intimately connected to nuclear weapons and it has an unresolved waste disposal problem. Additionally, as the Fukushima Daitchi disaster illustrates, nuclear power is not safe.

Electric power generation

We must encourage distributed power generation using renewable energy sources. The most successful policy tool to do this, in the experience of over 40 nations, is feed-in tariff legislation.

A feed-in tariff is what a public utility is required by law to pay a distributed generator (e.g. a home or business with a photovoltaic array or a wind-driven generator) for power fed back into the power grid. Currently such power generators in Maine get only credit against their own electric bills, limited to a maximum equal to the cost of energy they purchase from the grid. This never involves any cash payment to the distributed generator, who actually suffers a financial loss if he produces more power than he can get credit for in a given year, as the grid operator will simply accept the “excess" power without paying for it.

A feed-in tariff is set by law, usually high enough to encourage remote (distributed) power generation using a specific technology (such as photovoltaics). Most feed-in tariffs are set to be in force for a number of years (usually 15 or more) and reviewed and revised as necessary for maximum effectiveness.

Feed-in tariffs encourage investment in renewable energy technologies by providing a predictable payback during the early phase of market introduction. Thus they promote economic development and job creation. They also reduce the relative cost of the renewable energy component of energy efficient/ zero energy buildings, aiding the development of a renewable energy market and encouraging highly energy efficient building practices by lowering their cost.

Over 40 nations, and the Canadian province of Ontario, currently have feed-in tariffs. They often vary in detail, such as the level of payment, years of duration, periodic reviews, inflation-adjustments, etc. The most successful feed-in tariff was enacted in by Germany, which, as a result, has seen its photovoltaics industry grow six-fold, becoming a world leader. Many European nations have feed-in tariffs and, based on their experience, the European Union encourages their union-wide adoption. Asian nations with feed-in tariffs include world leaders Japan and China as well as several developing nations.

Several U.S. jurisdictions have adopted feed-in tariffs. We feel a feed-in tariff law would be a significant economic development tool for Maine as well.

Buildings (residential and non-residential)

We must minimize energy consumption by maximizing energy efficiency and provide for the remaining energy need by renewable means. Zero energy use in buildings has been demonstrated. The technology exists. The problem is lack of motivation to act, rooted in the scarcity of reliable information and some deliberate misinformation. We offer Energy audits, and promote the Passivhaus concept and, as part of these, renewable energy utilization.

Energy Audits

Energy audits are the key to cost-effective energy efficiency improvements and fuel cost reduction in houses and other buildings. The Collaborative, with the help of a Maine Community Foundation grant, has acquired the necessary equipment and instrumentation for professional energy audits. The use of this equipment is shared by our members who are Maine State certified residential energy auditors. Our audits, which are compatible wit passivhaus technology are offered at non-profit rates to area homeowners.

An energy audit is a systematic inspection of a house as an energy using system, with the aim of arriving at a prioritized list of steps a homeowner can take to cost-effectively improve energy performance. The auditor is an independent professional, not part of a construction team that also performs the actual home improvements. A follow-up audit may also be performed to verify the results of any such improvements after the work is completed.

Passivhaus

We promote the construction of new houses and buildings that require no space heating system in our climate. Such houses meet the International Passivhaus standard, currently the most demanding yet simple to apply in the world. We also use the Passivhaus concept in our energy audits and developing our recommendations.

The principle of Passivhaus is simple: first eliminate all energy waste, second, utilize energy sources found at a given location, third, employ alternative energy technologies to supply energy requirements that still remain. Passivhaus, is a building performance standard developed over several years by Bo Adamson of Sweden and Wolfgang Feist of Germany. In spite of its name, the standard is not limited to houses; it applies to any building. The result is an ultra-low energy building that requires little energy for space heating and can easily be upgraded to a net energy producer.

Unlike American building standards, a key feature of Passivhaus is that it specifies performance rather than prescribing specific practices. Therefore it encourages innovation rather than discouraging it. A passivhaus building must meet or exceed the following energy performance requirements:

  • The building must not use more than 15 kWh/m2/year (4755 Btu/ft2/yr) in heating energy. This must be achieved without an increase in energy consumption somewhere else, e.g. burning more lights or using appliances that waste more heat.
  • The heat load at design temperature must be less than 10 W/m2/hour
  • With the building depressurized to 50 Pascals below atmospheric pressure by a blower door, the building must not leak more air than 0.6 times the house volume per hour.
  • Total primary combined energy consumption for heating, cooling, water heating and electricity for all uses must not exceed120 kWh/m2/year

These requirements are much more demanding than typical building codes. In the United States, for example, a Passivhaus requires only 1 Btu per sq. ft. per degree day, compared to 5 to 15 Btu per sq. ft. per degree day for a similar building built to the 2003 Model Energy Efficiency Code. This means up to 95% less energy for space heating and cooling than current new buildings that meet U.S. building energy codes.

Buildings that meet the Passivhaus standard are able to dispense with conventional heating systems. Passivhaus buildings include only a small auxiliary heating element, usually as part of the central ventilation system required to maintain air quality, or space heating is simply a side-benefit of the heat pump-based heater of the household hot water supply.

Experience has shown that, in Europe, Passivhaus buildings can be built at approximately the same cost as ordinary buildings anywhere below the 60th parallel (above which extra costs are incurred. (We are near the 44th parallel) The main reason is that while the building envelope is more expensive to construct, the need for a heating system is eliminated. And, over time, the Passivhaus is a clear economic winner.

The following are typical basic features of Passivhaus construction:

  • Compact form and good insulation (U=0.15 W/m2K; 0.026 Btu/h/ft2/°F – about R 60 all around in our climate) - A New England Cape is an ideal form for such a building.
  • Southern orientation and proper summer shading (passive use of solar energy is a significant factor)
  • Energy efficient windows (Not exceeding U=0.80 W/m2K; 0.14 Btu/h/ft2/°F)
  • Airtight building envelope (total leakage not to exceed 0.6 times the house volume per hour)
  • Passive preheating of fresh air (through underground ducts that exchange heat with the soil. Even in cold winter days this will preheat fresh air to above 4l°F (5°C)
  • Highly efficient heat recovery from exhaust air using an air to air heat exchanger (>80% heat recovery rate)
  • Hot water supply using regenerative heat sources, such as solar heat and/or a heat pump running on solar power
  • Energy saving household appliances and lighting (low energy refrigerators, stoves, freezers, lamps, washers, dryers, office equipment, etc.)

Transportation

A society based on automobile-centered transportation is destined to fall apart. The private automobile is the cause of

  • Perennial traffic jams and costly delays
  • Huge individual cost of owning and operating a vehicle – The average American spends over $5,500 a year just to own a car. Fuel is extra.
  • Sprawl and the destruction of communities, town centers, small to medium businesses, a stable economy and jobs.
  • Clogged cities and parking problems
  • Endless construction of roads that only invite further congestion
  • Increasing difficulty in maintaining the road infrastructure as gasoline prices rise and the fuel-tax base shrinks
  • Unreasonably high energy consumption – absolute and comparable
    • An average car consumes 1.05 kWh per passenger mile, compared to 0.63 for a passenger train, 0.34 for light rail and 0.045 for a bicycle
    • Mainers use 16.8 million barrels of gasoline per year at a present cost of over $6.2 billion, all of which leaves the state’s economy
    • By 2018 the average Maine family is forecast to spend 40% of its total income on energy, half of this for motor fuel
  • Access to jobs depends on ability to afford a car and, increasingly, the ability to pay for parking
  • Viable alternative transportation options must address all of the above and reliably attract users away from their cars.

Bicycles are a key component of both urban and rural transportation in many countries with diverse climates. They are inexpensive, provide good exercise and mesh well with public transit systems.

Buses are fine to a point, but rely on already crowded roads and fossil fuels. They did not prove to have much effect on settlement patterns or sprawl. Their attraction for riders is limited, especially when the bus is stuck in traffic along with the private automobile. Bus speeds are uncompetitive with the private car. Buses work best as adjuncts to light rail systems.

Light rail based public transit is the most energy efficient option. It has been proven to attract ridership, offers the option of freight and parcel delivery service in addition to moving passengers, it outcompetes both car and bus in terms of speed. New lines are cheaper to build and maintain than a single lane of road, yet a single track moves many times the number of people than a highway lane and costs far less to maintain.

Light rail, unlike the bus, is compatible with pedestrian streets and anchors town-centered development (counteracting sprawl) quite effectively. A light rail line suggests permanence and reliability developers like.

Light rail meshes well with the electric car as a feeder and is bike-friendly in that it can routinely carry bicycles.

Light rail can provide to-the-door service in cities, while seamlessly serving regional needs.

Light rail takes less space than a roadway and can often utilize existing/ abandoned infrastructure, including old rail-beds.

Light rail meshes well even with heavy rail traffic.

Finally, light rail is a significant job creator, providing construction, operation and maintenance jobs, and also anchoring mixed use cluster development that are haven to local small to medium businesses and family farms which generate the greatest number of jobs in the economy.

We are conducting research on and promoting a replicable regional transit system based on light rail, using the Karlsruhe model, centered on Portland and utilizing currently under utilized or easy to reconstruct abandoned rail lines owned by the state. We would also like to see a full network of bikeways and bike lanes connecting towns and tourist destinations. Bikeways would promote health and could be a boon to attract tourists. They would encourage the young to ride bikes and provide adolescents freedom of movement instead of being forced to rely on their soccer mom for transportation. We promote the use of electric cars for local transportation. Allowing low voltage low speed vehicles to travel on roads posted up to 50 MPH (as opposed to the current 35 MPH limit) would make owning an electric vehicle far for local use more affordable.

Industry

Once other sectors are rationalized, industry will adapt.

Food and agriculture

The industrialized food system is fossil fuel dependent. Fertilizers, compensating for long lost healthy topsoil, farm equipment, long distance shipping and long term refrigeration all rely on fossil fuelt. The average American “eats" more oil per year, than his car.

Food-like substances based on corn and soy do not constitute a healthy diet. Along with lack of exercise they are a major cause of obesity and other health problems

The factory feed-lot system is cruel to animals and over-reliant on drugs used to control diseases caused by overcrowding in unhealthy unsanitary conditions.

The widespread use of pesticides, the need for which is exacerbated by monoculture factory-farming is a source of pollution and a threat to water supplies. It often results in tainted produce and meat products.

Nitrogen rich runoff from farmland pollutes rivers and even affects coastal estuaries hundreds of miles downstream.

Organic farming is more adaptable to climate change than the chemical-based variety. Local food production is more energy conserving. Small farmers create more jobs.

A healthy family diet and sound eating habits are keys to promoting local, organic, biodynamic farming. We support community supported agriculture and small family farms. We argue for minimally processed foods, balanced meals, family meals around the table – instead of solitary fast food at the desk, in the car or in front of the tube.