2018-11-02 / Community

Our Sustainable City

Energy Expo kick starts renewable transition
By Lucy Brennan
Sustainability Program Coordinator

From urban to rural areas, Maine is already experiencing the effects of climate change through severe weather, increased flooding, habitat changes and an increase in disease transmitting insects, to name a few. Residents and communities around the state are realizing that “business as usual” is not sustainable. We have an opportunity to couple economic development with sustainable development. Transitioning to electricity-based clean, efficient and renewable heating and transportation technologies will help us lower our heating and transportation costs while providing better comfort.

Your city is on this beat. Recognizing that the transition to new technologies can be a challenge, South Portland partnered with Portland, USM, Efficiency Maine and the Greater Portland Council of Governments to educate residents about more sustainable options and bring in vendors offering special deals at the Energy Expo on Oct. 20. The Energy Expo built on the success of last year’s heat pump challenge event. In similar form, experts and vendors answered questions about solar, heat pumps, electric vehicles and energy efficiency measures. Local car dealerships offered attendees a chance to hop behind the wheel of five different electric vehicle models, from sedans to minivans, and from plug-in hybrids to fully electric vehicles.

If you missed the expo, have no fear. The event was a launching point for individual and community action, beginning with rethinking how we heat our homes in winter months. The state’s old housing stock and inefficient heating systems make energy for heating one of the state’s most significant sources of greenhouse gas emissions. Although heating oil use has declined from 75 percent of Maine households in 2008 to an estimated 64 percent in 2013, Maine remains the most petroleum dependent state for home heating. In fact, heating costs and Maine’s reliance on inefficient oil-based heating systems continue to be one of the state’s most significant energy challenges.

“While increasing efficiency of residential electricity use is a laudable goal, heating costs remain the most significant household energy expense. In 2012, the average Maine household spent $900 on electricity, and $3,400 on heating oil. Funding for residential energy efficiency is not aligned with the most significant household energy expenditure, heating costs.”

– Maine.gov energy plan

Over the past few years, residential heating costs remain unstable and unaffordable. New technologies including air source heat pumps, hot water heat pumps and solar thermal provide cost-effective options to improve efficiency and begin the transition away from fossil fuels. This transition to more efficient renewable energy technologies will directly reduce our greenhouse gas emissions and thermal energy costs in Maine. These technologies will also help our economy as 85 percent of every dollar spent on heating oil leaves the state, but two-thirds of the state’s electricity is generated from Maine’s rivers, forests, and wind.

In addition to improving how our homes stay warm through winter, moving to more sustainable fuel sources and adopting electric vehicles will help transition us to a clean, electrified transportation systems. Maine is a rural state with few public transit options. Although there is train service from Boston to Freeport, transit buses, and private ride sharing options, many people rely on their own vehicles to get around. As a result, transportation accounts for another large portion of our greenhouse gas emissions. Electric vehicles are in a unique position to help us transition to a sustainable transportation system while also harnessing renewable generation from your rooftop.

For those of you looking to take the next steps, there are a few easy things you can do to get the ball rolling. Start by calling local vendors for the renewable technology that interest you. Efficiency Maine’s list of pre- qualified partners, suppliers, and energy professionals is a good place to begin. Have a few vendors conduct a site visit to learn how each vendor would install the technology and the estimated cost of the project. Compare and contrast each approach to arrive at what fits in your home and your lifestyle. Finally, become educated on how these technologies work best in our climate so you too can begin a transition away from oil and gas.

Our Sustainable City is a recurring column in the Sentry intended to provide residents with news and information about sustainability initiatives in South Portland. The Sustainability Office is staffed by a full-time director and parttime program coordinator, and is located on the first floor of City Hall.

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