BY MORGAN ROGERS
September 27, 2013
President Barack Obama declared in his State of the Union that we must combat climate change. One Mainer heading up this cause is Kay Mann of GreenEnergyMaine.com. Mann had the idea for the website in 2003 to respond to what she saw as an unsustainable energy paradigm as the United States invaded Iraq, oil prices peaked, and climate change was being highlighted.
“I felt strongly motivated to learn as much as I could about sustainable energy technologies and to work to help others to find ways to make the changes that will bring us to sustainability. I thought that aggregating as much information as possible onto one website would create a helpful resource that I could provide,” said Mann.
GreenEnergyMaine is an invaluable resource for a business or individual seeking clean energy solutions in Maine. The site provides a wide array of articles on various specific energy topics along with a glossary of energy terms. It has a directory of businesses that provide clean energy services or products in Maine as well as job listings.
For Mann, climate change is not just an environmental issue.
“For every dollar that we in Maine spend on energy from fossil fuels, eighty-five cents leaves our economy,” said Mann.
Energy is one of the main cost drivers that can make or break a business in Maine and one of the reasons Mann’s website focuses on Maine’s clean energy economy.
“It’s a huge drain that helps to explain why individual, corporate, and government budgets are so tight. To the degree that we can produce our energy in Maine, each dollar spent on homegrown energy will be circulated up to six times within our state’s economy. This will, and is, creating jobs,” added Mann.
Some lawmakers share Mann’s concerns and passed an omnibus energy bill.
The legislation helps to fund Efficiency Maine, an independent trust created by the Baldacci administration and lawmakers that provides Maine businesses and residents with a one-stop shop for energy-saving programs to reduce electricity and heating fuel usage. In addition, the legislation increased the percentage to lower carbon levels by 45 percent in the Northeast through the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative. RGGI has already brought over $43 million to Maine for clean energy projects. RGGI is the first cap-and-trade program in the United States and continues to help create clean energy jobs.
However, part of the all-encompassing energy bill also supports the construction of new gas supply lines into New England to lower electricity costs.
“Once the infrastructure is built, the people depending on gas to heat their buildings will be subject to price fluctuations in the gas market, which is controlled outside of Maine,” said Mann. “This has a familiar ring to it.”
Natural gas has been debated in the United States as the environmental costs of hydraulic fracturing have come to light. Hydraulic fracturing, commonly known as “fracking,” is the process of extracting natural gas by injecting a mixture of water, sand, and chemicals at high pressure into a wellbore in order to create fractures, which pushes the gas to the well.
“The environmental costs of hydrofracturing in the Marcellus Shale and other areas far outweigh any short-term benefits of using gas. I recently saw the movie Gasland, a documentary that shows the health detriments caused to neighbors by the fracking wells. It’s pretty bad,” said Mann.
Awareness has been raised over possible long- and short-term health effects due to contamination of the air and water, as well as radiation exposure by fracking. Many of the lines that carry the gas are substandard. In some communities across America with fracking taking place, it’s been documented that residents can ignite a fire by lighting a match near a kitchen faucet while the water is on. The water turns into flames.
“Gas does cause emissions. It is thought of as being a ‘bridge fuel’ that we can use to satiate our appetite for energy until we can build out more renewable infrastructure. I think of it as a Trojan horse,” said Mann.
Offshore wind turbines are also being constructed in Maine and offer great potential. Maine has the equivalent of 156 nuclear power plants worth of energy from ocean wind.
America’s first floating offshore wind turbine, VolturnUS, designed and built by the University of Maine, was launched May 31, 2013.
“This idea has the potential to transform Maine from being a net importer of energy for dollars that flow out of our state to a net exporter of energy for dollars flowing into our state,” said Mann.
UMaine’s goal is to install two full-scale turbines by 2016 and around 170 six-megawatt turbines in an offshore wind farm by 2030.
The VolturnUS technology was developed over six years in a public-private research partnership funded by the Department of Energy, the National Science Foundation’s Partnerships for Innovation program, the Maine Technology Institute, the state of Maine, the University of Maine and includes more than 30 industry partners.
The numerous organizations that came together to give Maine the second deepwater floating offshore turbine in the world illustrates one of the goals of Mann’s site as it focuses on fostering partnerships in green energy projects. Her database is extensive and provides business owners and researchers the ability to network. The site is also friendly to newcomers, providing community forums and case histories.
“I am always looking for more case histories to publish, so that the people who have gone ahead and made energy reforms can look over their shoulders at those of us who are following ‘at a safe distance’ and tell us how they did it,” said Mann.
Mann hopes more people will be drawn to the website.
“I would like to see more people taking advantage of all that this website has to offer, such as educational opportunities and workforce development. I’d like to see more involvement by students and teachers, showcasing their energy projects on the site for each other to see,” said Mann.