Making progress: One roof at a time

On May 25, 1961, as an impressionable 16-year-old high school sophomore, I watched President John F. Kennedy proclaim that America would land a man on the moon within 10 years.

Historians point out that the timing of the president’s inspiring speech was influenced by political factors, including the imperative for the United States to catch up to – and overtake – the Soviets in the space race. The subsequent Apollo Project that led to Neil Armstrong’s “one giant step for mankind” in 1969 required extraordinary public investment, dedicated ingenuity and political will.

A half century later, humankind faces a different sort of space race, the race to stall and reverse the accumulation of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases in our atmosphere, causing dangerous and irreversible climate change. This race also will require technological and design breakthroughs, leadership at all levels of government and public support.

But unlike the federal resources for the space race of the 1960s, the alternative energy initiatives are emerging at the local community level both here and around the world.

Germany provides an example of one especially successful model. Its national energy policy gives municipalities incentives to invest in alternative energy. Take the region of Freiamt in the Black Forest. The 4,300 inhabitants of this area rely on roof-mounted photovoltaic systems, wind generators, biogas, rapeseed oil, wood chips and other renewable sources to make their small area effectively self-sufficient in electricity use. When citizens and businesses generate more electricity than they need, Freiamt, like many other small German and Danish communities, can sell locally generated electricity to the national grid. Middle class residents are receiving much needed extra revenue, especially appreciated by retirees on fixed incomes.

What is happening in European villages is beginning to take place in the United States. Municipal leaders, motivated to do good for their towns, are encouraging their communities to implement forms of energy that are both safer and less costly in the long run.

Here in Bar Harbor, the Town Council is proposing a warrant article to authorize long-term leases of town rooftops and grounds for the development of photovoltaic projects that would generate electricity for the municipality and residents. The new Public Works site on the Crooked Road in Hulls Cove has the best configuration for this purpose and is the site proposed for the first bank of 1,400 panels.

At town meeting on June 2, voters will discuss and vote on Article T, Leases for Community Solar Farms and Power Purchase Agreements. Article T affords an exciting opportunity for our town to take a giant step toward a safer and cleaner environment. The town has been collaborating with College of the Atlantic and ReVision Energy for two years to assess the solar potential of all town and school properties.

The public works site could host a 318 kilowatt system – half of the electricity required for town government operations – as well as a 45 kw solar farm that would power nine Bar Harbor residences. These two solar projects could stabilize electrical utility costs for 30 years, generating more than $50,000 in annual savings that could be reinvested in our community.

The Solar Farm pilot project is designed to demonstrate the viability of solar energy and to encourage island businesses and homeowners to consider solar investments. The project will capitalize on Bar Harbor’s high visibility to make a strong statement that citizens, neighborhoods and towns can take significant steps to combat climate change and strengthen local economies.

A greener, brighter future is emerging in large and small towns around the world. Your vote at the open town meeting not only will conserve the environment for all of our children and grandchildren but also set an example for communities and policymakers nationwide. With initiatives and added incentives from all levels of government, today’s space race can be won one roof at a time.

Ted Koffman, retired director of Maine Audubon, represented several MDI communities in the Maine House of Representatives from 2000-2008, where he chaired the Joint Committee on the Environment and Natural Resources.

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