Josh Castonguay, vice president of innovation at Vermont-based Green Mountain Power, gave a presentation about his company’s innovations in energy delivery at Sunday’s A Climate to Thrive summit. ISLANDER PHOTO BY SAMUEL SHEPHERD

Climate work called ‘dream come true’

BAR HARBOR — “If you have a willing, engaged partner in the community, it makes a crazy amount of difference,” Josh Castonguay of Vermont-based Green Mountain Power told a group of about 250 at Mount Desert Island High School Sunday. “I hope folks here understand that this [event] is a huge deal.”

Power companies and other businesses are much more likely to innovate and improve if communities ask for and support the changes, he said, so he was encouraged by how many people turned out for the summit hosted by A Climate to Thrive, a group seeking energy independence for Mount Desert Island. The event included 14 workshops on everything from electric vehicle infrastructure to the psychological implications of climate change, as well as music and food.

Community members also shared their success stories during the event. Jonathan Hart, who installed solar panels for ReVision Energy during last year’s Solarize MDI initiative, said he had had a dream before deciding to move to Mount Desert Island.

“My dream basically involved a community working together to promote sustainability throughout their lives,” Hart said. “It was one of those moments where you said this is how life should be on planet Earth.

It came into my head that it was MDI that I was dreaming about. In front of my eyes, that dream is coming true.”

Building of the success of the Solarize MDI project, ACTT announced a new Weatherize MDI initiative at the summit. The group will offer free energy consultations and discounts on air sealing, insulation and efficient heating units and water heaters. For many households, these upgrades can reduce heating bills by more than half.

Further rebates are available through Efficiency Maine, a private group looking to lower the cost and environmental impact of energy, and also to those who receive government heating assistance.

“If we’re going to meet our goal of energy independence by 2030, we not only increase alternative energy, but we have to decrease energy consumption,” said Gary Friedmann, Bar Harbor town councilor and chair of the ACTT board of directors.

Keynote speaker Castonguay spoke about transforming the way energy is delivered. His company is attempting to shift its customers away from the conventional power grid. He believes the grid — the system that connects power generation facilities, substations, transformers, transmission lines and distribution lines — is only 40 to 50 percent efficient.

“It’s served us with in the last century, but the economic efficiency of it is declining,” Castonguay said. “As you have more stuff in between the energy, the more chance you have for things to go wrong.”

Castonguay, a Lewiston native, attended the University of Maine and received a degree in electrical engineering. GMP was one of the first utility companies to partner with Tesla to offer Powerwalls, a household battery that stores electricity for use during emergencies.

To date, GMP officials said 85 customers have a total of 114 batteries installed, and hundreds more customers have inquired about the service. GMP also accesses the stored electricity in the batteries and, when it is not required by the customer, releases it to the grid. This helps meet the needs of its customers without producing more electricity than is required.

Individual batteries can be installed for individual customers, but larger, 4,000-pound batteries are placed on utility company land. The energy storage service costs $15 a month or a one-time fee of $1,500. After 10 years, Tesla takes the batteries back.

Castonguay said he has spoken with Emera Maine about the Powerwall program.

Kevin Buck, a Tremont selectman, said that when he heard ACTT’s overarching goal, energy independence for MDI by 2030, he thought it was novel, but not likely. Seeing the number of attendees at the event and the strides made by ACTT, he said he had a change of heart.

“I believe it’s possible, and I think it’s going to happen,” Buck said.

Tremont selectmen, according to Buck, have approved a small-scale solar farm on the town’s closed landfill. Buck said that the farm would be up and running “by the end of the summer.”

Other presenters also sought to connect the group’s advocacy and practical work with changes in the way people think about the Earth and the climate.

“We’ve created a mindset that somehow our lifestyle and economies are outside of the natural world, independent of the forces that have sustained life for three and a half billion years,” John Craigo said ahead of a workshop he led.

“In our daily lives, we are now separated from the consequences of both the production and disposal of what we consume, allowing us to forget that this planet is a closed-loop system and the consequences of our activities will remain with us forever.

“Certainly, creating A Climate to Thrive means a transition to renewable energies and reduced waste, more local food production and more conscious consumption,” he continued. “Maybe more importantly however, it also means a change in consciousness, a collective remembering of the sanctity of life on Earth and our role in it. From this perspective, the necessary changes are a natural extension of gratitude for life far more precious and fragile than we want to admit.”

Samuel Shepherd

Samuel Shepherd

Samuel Shepherd is a University of Maine graduate and a former Bar Harbor reporter for the Mount Desert Islander.
Samuel Shepherd

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