In 2016, Venu Rao of Hollis, N.H., speaks to a packed house at the Neighborhood House in Northeast Harbor. More than 200 people attended the launch event for A Climate to Thrive, an effort to make Mount Desert Island energy independent. PHOTO COURTESY OF RICHARD SASSAMAN

ACTT celebrates anniversary with Q&A



MOUNT DESERT ISLAND  On Jan. 24, a Climate to Thrive (ACTT) reflected on accomplishments, answered questions about current projects and shared ambitious visions of the next decade of action on climate change during a virtual fifth anniversary celebration.  

Helping to guide the Zoom meeting with ACTT Executive Director Lawson Wulsin was Johannah Blackman, ACTT founding member and board chairman.  “It was very important to us regardless of the circumstances of our current situation that we gather with the community to mark this day because A Climate To Thrive truly grew from this community,” she said.  

Blackman introduced 12 panelists, composed of Mount Desert Island community members involved with ACTT, to answer questions from the public that had been gathered over the past few months. “We’ve tried to organize the questions in a flow that makes sense, that enables the many of us involved with this organization to paint the picture of our work for you,” she said. 

“‘Why energy independence by 2030 and is that even possible?’” asked Blackman, leading off the Q&A period. 

On behalf of the organization, ACTT Energy Committee Chairman Gary Friedmann said that the goal was both technologically and economically possible. “Five years ago, in 2015, when we were considering this possibility, energy independence seemed like a real longshot,” he said. A few weeks ago, during an ACTT meeting focusing on microgrids (energy efficient power grids), Friedmann said that an international expert in microgrids renewable technology was able to lay out a roadmap for how MDI could achieve energy independence by 2030.  

Blackman agreed with Friedmannsaying that MDI energy independence by 2030 has to happen in order to get a handle on the local climate crisis. “A lot of other communities are looking to ACTT’s MDI goal for inspiration,” she said.   

Speaking to the organization’s initiatives, Blackman presented a question about the organization’s solar work projects on MDI, including plans for additional solar work.  

Kevin BuckACTT board vice chairman, explained that the first project to build the community solar farm at the Tremont landfill was a big learning experience for ACTT. The solar panel installed near the landfill will save the town about $400,000 dollars over the life of the array, which powers the school and all municipal buildings. “It hasn’t had any negative impacts on the property at all,” said Buck. ACTT Intern Coordinator Joe Blocknick agreed that part of the solar agenda involved serving as a catalyst to get solar power to the high school. “ACTT managed the process to be the largest and first high school in the state of Maine to go 100 percent solar,” he said. Future plans include working with the town of Bar Harbor to create a solar operation in Hulls Cove on Route 3, said ACTT coordinator Beth Woolfolk.
“Someone wants to know, ‘Can you explain how ACTT has worked towards zero waste, and what have we done new to do for zero waste or working on lately?’” said Blackman. 

ACTT Zero Waste Committee Member Carey Donovan said she believes that the work MDI and Ellsworth communities did to ban plastic and Styrofoam a couple years ago helped to inspire Maine legislators to pass a statewide ban. “The state passed both statewide bag and foam bans that will go into effect the first of July this year,” she said. With this ban, she hopes to continue the current focus of building a zerowaste community by reducing food and plastic waste. “Thirty-five percent of Maine’s waste is food waste,” said Donovan. Adding to Donovan’s waste statement, ACTT past co-coordinator Jill Higgins said that the production and disposal of waste releases a substantial amount of carbon emissions. Higgins then introduced ACTT’s Sustainable MDI Pledge, which asks businesses to work towards actions that reduce their carbon footprint as part of their long-term sustainability visions.    

“Someone asked, “I hear a lot about energy optimization being important ... what does that mean?” Wulsin said. 

“Energy optimization means changing the way energy is consumed, using the least amount of carbon possible.” The director launched the discussion about an ACTT energy optimization project on the island called Electrify MDI, which, he explained, couples weatherization with heat pumps that enables a home’s energy consumption for an electronic heat pump. “We are partnering with contractors where we will do some sort of PR launch for homeowners to sign up and make it as easy as possible to install a heat pump in [their] home,” he said. 

In addition to Electrify MDI, Wulsin introduced another even bigger energy optimization project that ACTT is working on with other towns off the island called the Hancock County Energy Audit Program. The program, he explained, aims to reduce energy costs for users in Hancock County and to raise community awareness of the importance and benefits of energy efficiency.  

This topic inspired more questions during the live Q&A at the end of the meeting regarding the energy efficiency level of electric vehicles, pellet stoves and biodiesel fuel. Despite the hefty price, Wulsin noted that these were all encouraged for reducing fossil fuel emissions. “I suspect that there will be more incentives for reducing carbon input coming from the state,” he said. The meeting closed with ACTT panelists encouraging donations and reiterating the idea that every step made towards reducing carbon emissions is a good step. 

Ninah Gile

Ninah Gile

Reporter at MDIslander
Ninah Gile, an MDI native, covers the town of Bar Harbor. She is glad to be back in Maine after earning a bachelor's degree in San Diego from the University of California.

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