Currently showing posts tagged innovation

  • Leaders of nearly 50 Maine businesses urge Collins, King to defend EPA Clean Power Plan


    RGGI, America’s first cap-n-trade agreement, has earned the state over $74 million

     By Ramona du Houx

    On December 16, 2015, clean energy business leaders gathered in Portland at a solar panel company, ReVision Energy, to release a letter that urges Maine Senators Susan Collins and Angus King to continue their support for the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) finalized Clean Power Plan. If passed the plan will be the biggest national action yet to cut carbon pollution from power plants — power plants are the largest source of this climate-changing pollution in the nation. 

    The plan, in many ways, is modeled after the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI), America’s first cap-n-trade agreement, which has earned the Maine over $74 million that has been invested in clean energy and weatherization initiatives.

    “Maine people and businesses expect their Congressional leaders to stand up for Maine’s interests, and not be beholden the ideologies and rhetoric from out-of-state corporate polluters,” said Margaret Hoyt of the Natural Resources Council of Maine. “We’re pleased to see that leadership from Collins and King.”

    The letter emphasizes the importance of both Senators’ to continue their support as corporate polluters with vested interests in coal and oil, along with their political allies from other regions, repeatedly try to block the plan in Congress.

    “Nine years ago, Evergreen Home Performance looked at Maine’s combination of old houses, high oil dependence and natural resources and saw a business opportunity,” said Evergreen Home Performance founder Richard Burbank. “Since then, we’ve transformed hundreds of Maine houses from energy hogs to comfortable, efficient, worry-free homes, giving homeowners a nice buffer against volatile fuel prices, and employed highly trained workers.”

     Maine is expected to meet its Clean Power Plan requirements by continuing participation in the RGGI which limits pollution and generates funds through quarterly auctions of carbon credits.

    When Portland City Councilor Jon Hinck was a member of the Maine state legislature he worked tirelessly on clean energy initiatives. He helped with the law that made Maine part of RGGI. The legislation had a unanimous vote for implementation during the Baldacci administration. “The RGGI gives Northeast States a start in the worldwide effort to increase efficiency and meet power demand without fueling climate change,” said Hinck.

    The transition to renewable energy sources creates jobs and opportunities and RGGI helps.

     Farmington’s new Medical Arts Center at Franklin Community Health Network’s is saving energy while delivering critical medical care, in a large part, because of $59,532 in incentives from RGGI funds awarded by the state’s Efficiency Maine — the agency that channels RGGI earnings to clean energy projects.

    RGGI estimates a return of more than $2.9 billion in lifetime energy bill savings to more than 3.7 million participating households, and 17,800 businesses. The RGGI states have experienced over a 40 percent reduction in power sector carbon pollution since 2005, while the regional economy has grown eight percent.

    “We do about 100 home energy savings projects every year, and we are always happy to make homeowners more comfortable in their homes,” said Josh Wojcik, founder of the family-owned Upright Frameworks. “Thanks to RGGI, incentives are available to homeowners for this work. It’s great that RGGI sets Maine on the right course to meet the Clean Power Plan, too.”

    Through RGGI, Maine’s overall economy has grown and energy costs have been reduced.

    At the latest RGGI auction, on December 2, carbon credits brought in $4.2 million, primarily for Efficiency Maine to invest in energy improvements for Maine homes and businesses. Efficiency Maine’s annual report, released November 30, shows that RGGI provided almost all of the funds to help homes and large businesses and industry reduce oil and other heating fuel costs. According to that report, in the year ending June 30, 2015, the Home Energy Savings Program yielded $43 million in lifetime home energy savings for nearly 10,000 homes, supporting hundreds of jobs in the clean energy sector at the same time.

    However, Congressman Bruce Poliquin voted in favor of the Clean Power Plan repeal. His statements indicated he doesn’t understand or appreciate the fact that independent economists have shown that RGGI has created hundreds of jobs in Maine including a $215 million net benefit to Maine’s economy, and a boon to our environment.

    “Power plants should not be given unlimited license to treat our sky like an open sewer,” said Phil Coupe, co-founder of ReVision Energy. “The Clean Power Plan sets basic parameters to limit carbon pollution in the same way that there are limits on other pollutants like arsenic and mercury.”

    Climate change poses a serious threat to Maine’s economy, environment, and quality of life. Air pollution carried downwind from dirty power plants harms Mainers’ health and increases cases of asthma, cancer and heart disease. Warmer temperatures increase the number of vector-borne diseases in Maine, specifically causing Lyme disease, carried by deer ticks, to skyrocket.

    Climate change also threatens Maine’s nature-based industries like farming, winter guiding, fishing, and skiing, by increasing the severity and frequency of storms and making weather patterns less predictable. In addition, warmer and more acidic oceans threaten the long-term viability of lobsters and other marine fisheries, jeopardizing the culture and economy of Maine’s coastal communities.

    “Maine business leaders are already seeing how climate change threatens Maine’s economy, environment, and way of life, and they are already building a cleaner, more efficient economy,” said Hoyt. “Now, the Clean Power Plan will guarantee the rest of the nation follows New England’s lead with power plant carbon limits as strong as ours. Maine’s Clean Energy businesses support these common-sense proposals because they create enormous economic opportunities as we transition to cleaner, more efficient energy solutions.”

     So far, the letter has been signed by 46 Maine clean energy businesses, including Reed & Reed president and CEO Jack Parker, Evergreen Home Performance co-owners Elise Brown and Richard Burbank, Solaris owner Suzan Elichaa, ReVision Energy co-founder Phil Coupe, Penobscot Home Performance founder Matt Damon, Upright Framework founder Josh Wojcik, Vice President for State Policy at SunEdision, and Goggin Energy founder and owner Ann Goggin.

    In the run up to the global climate talks in Paris, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Kentucky) pushed through a bill that would repeal the plan, in part to weaken the U.S. position in any climate deal. Collins and King voted against the repeal bill, helping ensure it lacks the votes necessary to override President Obama’s veto.

    Since the Paris worldwide agreement of 195 nations to limit carbon emissions happened on December12, 2015, Congress approved an extension for a research and development tax break and extends the Production Tax Credit (PTC) for clean energy projects by five years.

    "Getting a five-year PTC extension in this bill was important for clean energy companies in Maine and around the country," said Congresswoman Chellie Pingree.  "Before this, companies didn't know from one year to the next whether this tax break was going to be on the books.  That makes it very hard to plan the clean energy projects that have created thousands of jobs already in our state." 

    However, over the coming months, there are likely to be additional attempts by McConnell and his allies to repeal or block the Clean Power Plan. They rejected the Paris treaty, agreeing with 3 percent of so-called scientists that global warming isn't happening.

    The Clean Power Plan is an essential part of the commitment the U.S. made in Paris.

  • Dr. Dagher’s history of innovation, leadership and work at UMaine’s Advanced Structures and Composites Center recognized by White House award

    Dr. Habib Dagher his Bridge in a Back Pack behind him at the University of Maine in 2009. photo by Ramona du Houx

    By Ramona du Houx

    In the spring of 2009 when Dr. Habib Dagher walked on the stage at the University of Maine during a presentation about bridge composite technologies he was casually carrying an oversized backpack. To most everyone’s surprise he opened the backpack and proceeded to pull out a large blue cylinder bag—and announced this was the major component that would form the skeleton of the arch of the award-winning composite bridge system, known as the “Bridge-in-a-Backpack.”

    In addition to the composite arch bridge system, Dr. Dagher’s history of innovation includes being named on 24 patents with 8 more pending.

    Finally, Dr. Dagher, on October 13, 2015, has been properly recognized for being a leader, the prime inventor of the “Bridge-in-a-Backpack,"  an inspiring innovator and mentor as he became a “2015 White House Transportation Champion of Change.”

    The White House Champions of Change Program honors Americans who are empowering and inspiring other members of their communities. At the event, honorees will have the opportunity to highlight their efforts in advancing transportation during a panel discussion. In addition, a blog post and the biography of each honoree will be featured on the White House website.

    “I’m really, really humbled,” said Dr. Dagher, founding Director of the University of Maine’s Advanced Structures and Composites Center. “The award really belongs to the entire center, to the entire team.”

    The Bridge-in-a-Backpack’s arches, made of composite materials, are inflated at the site of a bridge and then infused with resin. Once they harden, they are lowered into place and filled with concrete and the foundations are shored up. Then the arches are covered in a corrugated, composite material, dirt and sand fills in gaps, and a composite deck on top of the structure is paved.

    The world’s first “Bridge in a Backpack” can be seen in Pittsfield as the Neal Bridge. That 44-foot structure used 23 arches in its construction and cut down the time of erecting a bridge — which was built by UMaine students, professors, and the Maine Department of Transportation.

    Governor John Baldacci made sure ten percent of Maine’s bridges would be built from the technology developed at the Composite Center in a transportation bond. That enabled the first Bridge in a Backpack to be constructed, and every since then attention and acclaim has been rolling in. With revolutionary examples of a light weight, more durable and flexible bridge technology here in Maine other states continue to see the advantages of using the “Bridge-n-a-Backpack.” The company that manufactures the bridges is owned and operated by Mainers in Orono, near UMaine.

    Dagher has also spurred composite technologies in alternative energy systems, boat building and extra strong buildings.

    “Dr. Habib Dagher is a wonderful and talented ambassador for Maine, and UMaine. His work on the composite program is yielding gains in transportation, energy, and boat building. I am proud of what he did in Maine and how the technologies he has fostered are great examples of what Maine can do for the nation,” said Former Governor John Baldacci.

    Dr. Dagher received his award in Washington D.C. at the White House Champions of Change event as U.S. Secretary of Transportation Anthony Foxx recognized 11 of the nation’s top transportation innovators for their exemplary leadership in advancing transportation and leading change that benefits our nation’s transportation system.

    The American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) nominated Dr. Dagher for the award.

    “From Bridge in a Backpack to the VolturnUS wind-power project, the brilliant innovations he has developed are opening many economic opportunities for the state’s future,” said Congresswoman Chellie Pingree. “I’m so glad the White House is recognizing his vision, leadership, and ingenuity.  Congratulations to him and his team on this well-earned honor.”

    “Dr. Dagher has long been an innovative force in Maine, and we are delighted that his work is being recognized so prominently by the White House,” said Senators Collins and King in a joint statement. “The University of Maine continues to prove that it is a first-class research institution, and Dr. Dagher and his team at the Composites Center are exemplary of that excellence.”

    In 2014, the Composite Arch Bridge system was approved in the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials (AASHTO) bridge code, the first FRP composite bridge system to be approved in the US bridge design code.

    Dr. Habib Dagher's Bridge in a Back Pack being displayed at the University of Maine in 2009. photo by Ramona du Houx

    The Arch Bridge System, was featured in the cover story of Plastics Engineering in May 2015. The article titled, “Reinforced Plastics Move into Non-Traditional Markets,” was written Peggy Malnati. An excerpt from the article follows:

    “With increasingly unpredictable weather, natural disasters, and civil unrest plaguing many regions, it’s increasingly important to be able to replace damaged or destroyed bridges rapidly. Even in settled areas, aging infrastructure on bridges that are over their limit and beyond their service life means local and regional governments need ways to replace bridges quickly and cost effectively, preferably with materials offering longer use life.

    “A composites-intensive bridge technology developed by University of Maine’s Advanced Structures & Composites Center and commercialized by Advanced Infrastructure Technologies (both in Orono, Maine, USA) is said to provide a better, faster way to replace a wide variety of concrete bridges, freeway underpasses/overpasses, and railroad bridges. The project began with three ambitious goals: replace concrete formwork and rebar, use efficient arched structures, and produce components at the worksite.”

    Dr. Habib Dagher speaking about his Bridge in a Back Pack at the University of Maine in 2009. photo by Ramona du Houx

    “This award honors over a decade of ground breaking research by Habib and the UMaine team and highlights the importance of our continued partnership in advancing the nation’s transportation industry,” said Brit Svoboda, Chairman and CEO of AIT.

    Composite arch bridges have been installed in 18 locations in the US. A few others have been built elsewhere, including one in Trinidad.

     When a bridge collapsed in Minneapolis in 2007 Baldacci put together a $40 million bond, from nominal fees, to repair and replace the bridges at risk in Maine. "We’re going to use the latest research and development technologies from the University of Maine in composites to be a part of the solution," said Governor Baldacci at that time. "This should help spur the growing composites industry in Maine while making our bridges safe and secure."

    It did as the bond bill established a bridge composites innovation initiative where the MDOT worked with UM to expand the use of composites technologies in bridge maintenance and capital applications. They used the technology and products to inspect and extend the life of bridges and developed delivery models that expedited the design, rehabilitation and construction of bridges.

    Under Dr. Dagher’s leadership, the UMaine Composites Center grew from an idea proposed to the National Science Foundation in 1996 to a 100,000 ft2 world leading research laboratory with 180 full and part-time employees and students, the largest STEM-based research center at a Maine university.

    “In his 30 years at the University of Maine, Habib has embodied the teaching, research and community engagement efforts at the heart of Maine’s research university,” said University of Maine President Susan J. Hunter. “He is an internationally recognized leader in his field addressing the needs of Maine, and his innovation has led to structural technologies that have improved transportation infrastructure, advanced economic development and saved lives. And in all these efforts, he has engaged hundreds of students — tomorrow’s workforce — and created jobs. This national honor recognizes the achievement of hundreds of UMaine collaborators, and represents the strong partnership UMaine has with businesses and communities throughout the state.”