Read the original article here on the Website of the Portland Press Herald, the Source section.
We asked five Mainers in eco-friendly fields what change they'd like to see in the new year.
With New Year’s Eve on our doorstep, Mainers are looking forward to 2015 by choosing resolutions and making wishes that will bring hoped for change to their lives in the coming year.
Similarly, Mainers who work in fields such as agriculture, energy, forestry and fisheries wish for swift actions and policies that will move the state forward in the new year. Source asked five of them to answer the question: What is the one change you would like to see in your field in 2015 that would make Maine a more sustainable place to live?
Here are their replies:
• PHIL COUPE: IN-YOUR-FACE RENEWABLES
When tourists visit Portland – whether by car, boat or plane – one of the first things they see on their way into the city is the large collection of oil tanks in South Portland.
Phil Coupe wants to change that. Why not transform those giant tanks into aquaculture facilities, or use them for wood pellet storage?
“My big idea for 2015 is that we emphasize the huge potential of renewable energy to accelerate our tourism economy,” he said.
Coupe is co-founder of ReVision Energy, the largest solar installer in Maine, and is on the board of the Environmental & Energy Technology Council of Maine. His idea would make Maine’s renewable resources much more visible to tourists and therefore make Maine a more attractive place to visit.
“After the long painful slide in our paper and pulp industry, tourism has now become Maine’s biggest economic driver,” Coupe said. “The fact that Maine has the highest per capita greenhouse gas emissions in New England and the highest oil consumption in New England, those two realities are really in conflict with the idea of a tourism economy based on a pristine natural environment. You’ve got a problem there. There’s a pretty big disconnect.”
Many of Coupe’s notions fall more into the category of hopes and dreams, rather than changes that might actually happen in a year’s time, but they do put intriguing ideas on the table. Coupe said, for example, he would turn the new Thompson’s Point development into “a shining jewel of sustainability” with New England’s first net-zero entertainment facility – a building that uses only renewable energy created on site.
And those oil tanks in South Portland? As they become underutilized, turning them into wood pellet storage facilities would make it easier to supply wood pellet boilers in southern Maine, as that industry lacks the infrastructure to deliver its fuel. Maine has four pellet mills and is a net exporter of wood pellets, Coupe said.
“Maine has 440,000 oil boilers, many of which we could convert to fully automated pellet boilers,” he said. “I’m not talking about pellet stoves, I’m talking about boilers that live in the basement. In western Europe, it’s much more common to see a pellet fuel delivery truck going down the street than an oil truck, and that’s part of the clean energy future we envision for Maine.”
Coupe would also cover the roof of Ocean Gateway in solar panels.
“It’s the absolute perfect roof,” he said. “It faces directly south. It’s a standing seam metal roof, which is the very best kind for solar panels because you can attach the panels without penetrating the roof by clamping to the seams. So it would be this wonderful symbol of renewable energy” as cruise ships filled with tourists dock nearby.
• MARK HEWS: BOOST LOCAL FOOD
Mark Hews, executive director of the Maine Sustainable Agriculture Society, has a mission: help farmers capture more of the consumer food dollar by reducing costs and increasing the value of the products that they sell.
The problem? People are eager to eat local, but they don’t want to pay more for their food. Hews says it’s just “human nature.”
Hews, who is also on the Maine Food Strategy steering committee, says the strategy group conducted a survey (released in May) that shows a majority of Mainers would like to buy and have access to more local food “but by the same token that survey revealed that most people do their food shopping in the major retailers.”
The answer, he believes, is better infrastructure using new energy-efficient technologies that lowers costs for farmers.
“If we are going to be able to help more consumers buy more local food, then there has to be support for the scaling of agriculture in a way that allows farmers to remain profitable or become profitable,” Hews said. “We work on a number of initiatives as a Society. My hope for 2015 would be more attention being paid to our sustainable year-round agriculture project.”
That project is bringing together agriculture, energy and composites experts to create year-round growing structures made of advanced composite materials. The structures use solar panels and incorporate other energy-saving devices and techniques so that the overall cost of energy for farmers is reduced and crops can be grown all year. Growing crops in these greenhouses allows farmers to be more productive, which raises the value of their products. And building this infrastructure will create more jobs.
So far, there are four demonstration sites. Kennebec Valley Community College in Fairfield is testing a heat-efficient, solar greenhouse. There’s a hydroponic greenhouse with integrated photovoltaics at Olivia’s Garden at Pineland Farm in New Gloucester. Little River Flower Farm in Buxton is the site of a solar greenhouse for in-ground cut flowers and vegetables. Another composite-solar structure is located at the University of Maine’s Climate Change Institute in Orono.
• THERESA KERCNER: BACK TO THE WOOD
Theresa Kerchner, executive director of the Kennebec Land Trust, is looking to the local food movement for inspiration as she tries to build a “local wood movement” in Maine.
Her one change for 2015? She’d like to see increased demand for lumber and wood products sourced from sustainably managed Maine woodlands.
“In the same way that the local food movement scaled up and developed links between farmers and consumers,” she said, “we think the local wood economy has the potential to foster similar relationships among consumers, forest landowners, loggers, architects, builders and wood processors.”
Maine is 89 percent forested. Southern and central Maine communities have a rich history of local sawmills where trees were milled into lumber for houses, barns and wood products such as barrels, shingles or shovel handles. Many of those sawmills disappeared as people began changing how they bought lumber and wood products.
“What we hear from the small sawmills that go out of business is that it’s very difficult to compete with the big box stores,” Kerchner said.
That attitude may be changing. At a conference the trust held on the topic this fall, Kerchner and her colleagues heard stories from people, such as the owner of Kennebec Timber Framing in Albion, that give some hope consumers may be paying more attention to where their wood originated. David Frankenfield told the group he has seen an increased demand for frames built from timber harvested locally. It seems there’s a kind of cachet among consumers for having a story that comes along with the wood used to build their home or barn.
Kerchner and her partners, which include groups as varied as the Maine Forest Service and the Maine Coast Heritage Trust, also face the challenge of changing peoples’ attitudes about cutting down trees. While it may seem counterintuitive for a land trust to support timber harvesting, they believe sustainable harvesting can play an important role in land conservation.
The new wood economy would highlight the connections between landowners, loggers and consumers. Once that economy gains traction, Kerchner said, it could lead to new wood products markets, the creation of jobs, and “fuel a tremendous amount of innovation.” It could also help slow climate change if more Maine wood is sold regionally instead of being shipped around the globe.
People don’t think much now about their consumption of wood resources because so much of it comes from a distance, Kerchner said. If they become more engaged with local landowners and loggers, they might re-evaluate what they use and their personal impact on the environment.
• JENNIFER LEVIN: KNOW WHERE YOUR SEAFOOD COMES FROM
Imagine going up to the seafood case at your local grocery store, pulling out your smartphone and pointing it at the haddock you’re about to buy for supper.
A mobile app on the phone not only tells you who caught the haddock, but where and how. And later, you can send that fisherman a photo of your family enjoying their fish chowder.
That’s Jennifer Levin’s sustainability wish for the New Year.
Levin is the sustainable seafood project manager for the Gulf of Maine Research Institute in Portland, which has already done a lot of public education around sustainable seafood. It created the Gulf of Maine Responsibly Harvested brand so that shoppers know that the fish and shellfish they’re buying come from well-managed fisheries. Their Culinary Partners program recruits restaurants that promise all the fish on their menus is sustainably harvested.
Levin says the mobile app would bring a whole new level of transparency, connecting information from the fishing vessel here in the northeast all the way through to the retailer or restaurant. It might include profiles of local fishermen, maps, information on how the product was harvested, and links to recipes.
“People really care about where their food comes from,” Levin said, “In fact, market research demonstrates that people care more about where their food comes from and what kind of community of people are being supported with that purchase than they do strictly about sustainability and the environmental impacts of that product. The nice thing about what we have going on here is that we can tell that story both from an environmental perspective – because we are really confident in how our seafood is harvested – and that community’s story.
Levin said the app could help put the spotlight on fishermen who are doing a lot to steward the resource voluntarily. They invest in gear that has less impact on the sea floor, or find ways to reduce their energy use.
“This could be one nice way of connecting the person who’s going out in the ocean and bringing that fish in with the person who ultimately eats it,” she said. “And actually we’ve heard from fishermen who have said that the feedback loop would be really interesting to them. They would love the opportunity to perhaps get a message from someone saying, ‘Hey we really enjoyed the pollock that you brought in and thank you, and here’s a picture of my family eating it.'”
• SEAN MAHONEY: A CHANGE IN ENERGY ATTITUDE
Sean Mahoney covers a lot of territory in his job as director of the Conservation Law Foundation’s Maine Advocacy Center, but it’s energy that’s on his mind when it comes to thinking about 2015.
Mahoney says he would like to see the conversation around energy in the state shift from the unit cost of energy to its growth cost.
“Last year, what we seemed to hear is that the price of a kilowatt of energy in Maine is higher than anywhere else, and that hurts homeowners, our community and our businesses,” Mahoney said. “And even though that’s not true – actually, the only state in New England that has a lower unit price of energy than Maine is Vermont – it’s not really the right issue. What would be better for homeowners and businesses and communities to focus on is ‘how can we use less energy?'”
Tightening up the house, turning down the thermostat, swapping refrigerators – all of these measures to be more energy efficient keep our eyes on the big picture as well as our own personal bottom lines, Mahoney argues, “and all of those things are totally consistent with Mainers’ sense of self-reliance and independence and thrift.”
Changing the conversation about energy in this way can lead to policy change, too.
“When we use electricity impacts how much it costs,” Mahoney said. “If we had a type of system where it was cheaper to run the dishwasher at 10:30 at night than at 4:30 in the afternoon, my bet is that 80 percent of the people in Maine are going to stay up until 10:30 to run the dishwasher. We don’t have that as a system yet, but we won’t have it unless we start changing our conversation and shifting the focus from ‘how much does each kilowatt cost?’ to ‘how can I reduce how much energy I’m using?'”
BY MEREDITH GOAD STAFF WRITER