BAR HARBOR — A Climate to Thrive, a group seeking energy independence for Mount Desert Island in response to concerns about climate change, has been at work on several fronts, including solar power, energy efficiency, transportation and waste management.
Two years after a large kickoff event in January 2016, the group is again planning a winter summit to celebrate its accomplishments and continue its work.
The summit is planned for Sunday, Jan. 28, at 2:30 p.m. at MDI High School, headlined by a prominent innovator in New England’s utilities industry.
Josh Castonguay, vice president of innovation at Vermont-based Green Mountain Power (GMP), will speak on “Transforming a Century Old Energy Delivery System.” He said the focus will be put the shortcomings of the current energy delivery system — which he believes is inefficient — and his company’s vision to change it.
Castonguay, a Lewiston-native, attended the University of Maine and received a degree in electrical engineering.
“This delivery system today has served us well and continues to be very important,” Castonguay said. “This system is only about 40 to 50 percent efficient and even more reliant on fossil fuels when we go through cold snaps like we did recently.”
Some of the current electrical infrastructure was built in the early 1900s and relies on a vast network of power plants and transmission lines. GMP is seeking to shift its customers away from the power grid to community-based energy through innovative technologies, like home power-storage.
GMP developed a program that uses Tesla batteries to store backup electricity to be used in emergencies, instead of fossil-fuel powered generators. Individual batteries can be installed for individual customers, but larger, 4,000-pound batteries are placed on utility land. The storage services costs $15 a month or a one-time fee of $1,500. After 10 years, Tesla takes the batteries back.
To date, GMP officials said 85 customers have a total of 114 batteries installed and more than 1,000 customers have inquired about the service.
This project, along with other programs like offering subsidies on electric vehicles, has reduced the total carbon consumption of Green Mountain’s 270,000 customers by 116,000 metric tons per year – the equivalent of 1,000 cars. By 2032, GMP hopes to reduce carbon consumption by 200,000 metric tons per year.
Castonguay said he regularly meets with other New England power companies to share ideas. He has met with officials from Emera to discuss the Tesla battery program.
He said that groups like ACTT, who are building community support for local energy and energy independence, are critical to transforming the utility system.
“There are always cool opportunities in a tight-knit community,” he said.
ACTT has rallied around a goal of energy independence for MDI by 2030, part of the success of which will depend on continually reducing the need for imported energy. According to Gary Friedmann, a Bar Harbor town councilor and ACTT chair, MDI spends $60 million on energy a year, some of which comes from energy providers outside Maine.
ACTT plans to roll out a new Weatherize MDI initiative at the summit, building on the 2017 success of Solarize MDI, which doubled the island’s solar power generating capacity.
Through Weatherize MDI, New England Energy Consulting will provide free energy consultations and discounts on air sealing, insulation and efficient heating units and water heaters. Further rebates are available to those who receive heating assistance and through Efficiency Maine, a private group looking to lower the cost and environmental impact of energy.
“Energy efficiency upgrades like air sealing, insulation or replacing an old heating system reduced our heating bills by two-thirds in our previous home,” ACTT coordinator Joe Blotnick said.
ACTT recently received a grant to build two or three electric car charging stations, each with a pair of single-car chargers, in the Downeast region. A decision has not been made on the location of the chargers, but Southwest Harbor, Northeast Harbor, Bar Harbor and Belfast are under consideration.
ACTT also distributed free LED light bulbs to MDI residents last year, and helped lead conversations with Emera about rate structures for LED streetlights. Since 2016, Mount Desert residents have approved $182,500 in funding for a switch to LED streetlights.
Emera spokesperson Judy Long said that there is no rate structure currently, but municipalities can contact Emera if they are interested in LED streetlights. Efficiency Maine offers $80-$350 in rebates for streetlights depending on size and light emitted by the fixture.
ACTT also has a waste initiative that pushes sustainability. One of the summit’s 11 workshops, called “Rethinking Plastics,” will center on how individuals and communities can reduce their need for plastic.
Admission to the summit is free. A snow date is set for Feb. 11.