Community Solutions to a Changing Climate with Lessons from Denmark

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GrowSmart Maine Director Nancy Smith photo by Kay MannGrowSmart Maine held its annual meeting on Tuesday, October 20th, 2015 in the lovely old mill building called the Pepperell Center in Biddeford, Maine. The day began with tours of Biddeford, a city that has undergone tremendous change in the last few years, followed by lunch in several local establishments. Attendees then gathered to be inspired by a lineup of speakers, who outlined successes from Maine and Denmark, a world leader in reducing the use of fossil fuels. Green Energy Maine was there and brings you this report.

Angus King sent a recorded welcome message via teleconference. He observed that there is a great increase in implementation of energy solutions such as solar, heat pumps and weatherization these days in Maine, and that GrowSmart Maine is tackling the issue from the local angle.


Catherine Lee of Lee International and Chair of the Maine Climate Table and John Piotti, former GSM board member and Director of the Maine Farmland Trust led this first conversation. First, from Cathy Lee:


In 2008, it looked as if we might have a climate change law for Maine. By 2010, the political climate had changed and no such law was enacted. The people who were serious about climate change did not have an effective voice; rather the doubters and debaters overpowered the messages of warning. Some worried that we would have no policies or plans for how to meet the adversities that promise to come about as a result of global warming.

In 2003, Maine was in the lead among US states with its climate action plan. In 2009, Maine joined the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI). Presently, state action has stalled. The good news is that on a more localized level, municipalities are installing larger diameter culverts, business are creating new markets to address climate change, non-profits are partnering with fisheries and new coalitions are forming everywhere. One of these is the Maine Climate Table (MCT), whose goals are to understand how to communicated about the climate, to understand the landscape and to create a call to action. 

MCT partnered with the Yale Communications Project, who polled people about their reactions to news of climate change. From these statistics, they identified 80% of the population as a target audience. With other understandings built by study of Maine’s social and political landscapes, the MCT will make calls to action in 2016.


The US Clean Power Plan promises to reduce power sector emissions to 30% below 2005 levels by the year 2030. At a conference in Paris later this year, there will be two weeks of negotiations to replace the Kyoto protocol; its code name is “COP 21”, or the Conference of the Parties, 21st meeting. The overall objective of a new treaty will be to stabilize greenhouse gas emissions at a sustainable level.

John Piotti of the Maine Farmland Trust photo by Kay MannSTATE OF FARMING IN MAINE

John Piotti added that farming is changing along with the climate. There has been a striking renaissance in farming in Maine in just the past decade. Smaller, diversified farms have grown up and this presents many great possibilities. Maine has been the bread basket of New England in the past and It can be again. With the opportunities come some challenges; one of them is the climate. Global warming will NOT help farming by lengthening our growing season.  It is a relatively small problem that we have a shorter growing season than our southern neighbors. The climate is becoming dryer and pests never before seen in Maine have been appearing. Farmers need to be included in discussions about how we will react to climate change. It is so big that EVERYONE should be engaged.

Individuals and small groups are not going to bring solutions; we need everyone in the room to think about what they can bring to the broader efforts. We need to bring more people and organizations to the cause.

Maine Senator Lynn Bromley photo by Kay MannTAKEAWAYS FROM THE DENMARK ENERGY TOUR 2015

GrowSmart Maine is one of fourteen Maine organizations, towns and businesses that traveled to Denmark this fall to bring home examples of renewable energy production, transportation alternatives and energy building efficiency that may make sense here in Maine. Next up, we heard stories from the Denmark Energy Tour 2015. The panel of tour veterans included Maine Representative Martin Grohman, CEI Board Member Sue Inches, USM Sustainability Coordinator Tyler Kidder, Senator Roger Katz and Senator Lynn Bromley.

Senator Bromley introduced the panel by thanking Sue Inches for organizing it and saying that her initial pessimism about climate change has turned to hope as a result of the trip. Denmark has no natural energy resources and they did not want to be dependent on foreign resources. One favorite quote that the team brought back from their new danish friends was, “The Vikings relied on trust; it was the basis of their societies. It is still the basis of Danish society today.”

Senator Bromley began by asking the panelists, “What surprised you most in Denmark?”

USM Sustainability Coordinator Tyler Kidder photo by Kay MannTyler Kidder: After I got back, I realized there was no bicycling subculture in Denmark because cyclists there are all just people getting around. Cycling to work is a given rather than making people feel like heroes or weirdos. Copenhagen has many car-free bike routes, including an network of bridges built just for bikes and pedestrians.

Martin Grohman: Nothing surprises me after serving on energy committee in the 127th Legislature. Seriously, though, there is a different utility there that we do not have: piped hot water, running under the streets.

Roger Katz: The government encourages everyone to travel by bike and discourages the use of cars. People commuting by bike to work have an expression of complete boredom on their faces. There is wide acceptance of a very high level of taxation: 40% income tax and 25% sales tax, and people expect that the services they need will be provided. “Personal services obligation” is what they call these taxes.

Sue Inches: Climate change is a spiritual issue, as the pope recently said in his encyclical. What inspired me was the local engagement: there are already 150 locally-owned combined heat & power plants generating electricity and capturing the heat from that power. We saw waste straw being burned in biomass burners; it is being used to make both power and heat. When they have more power than they need from wind power, they use it to make heat and store the energy as heat. Solar thermal energy is also being put into this hot water utility. These things are very do-able here in Maine. By comparison, 40% of the heat is lost when we generate power centrally here.

Lynn Bromley: Denmark has a strong co-operative culture, similar to Maine’s history of granges.

The next question for the panel was, “What did you most want to bring back to Maine?”

Tyler Kidder: We already have what we need here. It is a more humanistic approach. Townspeople own their utilities for power and hot water. They think about village centers and create critical masses.

Sen Katz: There are two things I would like to bring to Maine:

1. Setting goals. Denmark has set ambitious goals for itself and attained them.

2. Steady commitment to achieving goals. Term limits cause a shifting focus in Maine’s legislature. Businesses investing in Maine are looking for predictability and we are not delivering it.

Sue Inches: What I would like to bring back here is hope. We visited an island called Sansoe Island, that moved from a state of self-pity to being a sustainable community; this can be brought to Maine, too.

Maine Representative Martin Grohman photo by Kay MannMartin Grohman: I would bring community ownership to Maine. There is a certain level of discontent with the look of wind turbines in Denmark, and they say it changes their point of view when they OWN them.

Lynn Bromley added another quote from one of the Danes they met: “Denmark is the center of the world when it comes to energy changes and the center of the world is the place from which you can see the future.”

The third question for the panel was, “What hopes do you have going forward?”

Roger Katz: There is no debate about climate change in Denmark. This is not so in Maine. I hope we can get beyond this difference within Maine’s government. It should not be a partisan issue.

Sue Inches: It’s all about people doing things. One speaker said not to worry about deciding what to do because we need to do ALL of it at once. 

Martin Grohman: I see an opportunity for Maine to have the cheapest AND cleanest power; we now have the 4th cleanest and 37th cheapest power of all 50 states.

Tyler Kidder: Denmark made a mindful decision to go in this direction. They have had an aggressive applied science program in their schools. We have a lot to do around education in bringing up our children to understand district heating and other technologies. We can seed the future economy through better education today.

Roger Katz added that he came back excited about manure. The group visited a place where there were a lot of farms and they could not spread manure on their land due to groundwater pollution problems. So they are using the manure to produce district heating and electric power, instead. The byproduct is broken down manure that CAN be spread on the fields. To avoid the PR problem of manure trucks driving all around, they put manure into trucks that look just like milk trucks.

Sue Inches showed one slide of sheep grazing around a solar thermal panel array in a field. They found it was impractical to mow around the collectors, so they use sheep to keep vegetation down.

NOTE: Copies of the report from the Denmark Energy Tour 2015 were available at the meeting and may be requested from GrowSmart Maine.

Donna Larson of Solarize Freeport Brooks Winner Community Energy Associate at The Island Institute Sam Saltonstall of the Peaks Environmental Action Team and Window Dressers photo by Kay MannLEADERS IN MAINE

The next panel featured inspiring stories from Maine communities, including renewable energy, building efficiency and transportation. Panel members were:

Donna Larson of Solarize Freeport
Brooks Winner, Community Energy Associate at The Island Institute;
Sam Saltonstall of the Peaks Environmental Action Team (PEAT) and Window Dressers;
John Egan, Senior Vice President for Loans & Investments at CEI;
Carl Eppich, Senior Transportation Planner for GPCOG & PACTS and
Kate Dempsey, Director of External Affairs at The Nature Conservancy.

The panelists were asked to tell a story about what they are doing in Maine.

Donna Larson, Freeport Town Planner: Solarize Freeport is a bulk purchase of solar, taking individual purchasing power and putting it all together. The town acted simply as the focal point. Initially, it was thought to be about cost saving, to make up for the lack of state incentives. It became a neighbor-to-neighbor conversation that turned out to provide 41 homes in Freeport with solar power.

All energy measures have to start with efficiency. We started with the $600 air sealing program offered by Efficiency Maine, that provides a blower door test and 6 hours of air sealing. The town paid the homeowner’s $200 share of this cost for the lower income families.

Brooks Winner, The Island Institute: We are working with island communities throughout New England. Islands have many times higher energy costs than the mainland has. They are small communities where people help one another. One example was when a barge was brought out to Monhegan to weatherize 90% of the homes on the island using spray foam. A group purchase of heat pumps on Peak’s Island was also made. Fox Islands wind was another example of a community effort to address high energy costs by working together to produce 4.5 megawatts of power to serve 2 islands. This stabilized rates for all, instead of having some individuals going solar, which would have raised rates for the remaining grid-tied homes.

On two islands in Massachusetts, they focused on efficiency first by replacing all light bulbs with CFL’s and upgrading all of the older refrigerators in the summer homes.

Sam Saltonstall of Peak’s Island and Window Dressers: The Peak’s Environmental Action Plan began when a group of stakeholders got together and found that the school’s boiler was using $40-50K worth of oil every winter. Community members have tightened the building and insulated it. An engineer has been hired using grant money from the Island Institute and the optimal heating system for the building will be selected.

John Egan Senior Vice President for Loans and Investments at CEI photo by Kay MannJohn Egan, of CEI: Fully 65% of the energy consumed in the US is used to condition and light the built environment. Renovating spaces in the built environment is the most energy-efficient way forward, so congratulations to the former mill towns that are learning to use the existing buildings in new ways. We also have ample biomass resources here in Maine, that can more than supply our needs without a bigger natural gas pipeline coming in from another state.

The term, “anaerobic digestion” is Danish for doing something with waste materials to create energy. Methane is created from biological processes and it can power a generator to create both heat and power. The first microgrid-oriented utility using anaerobic digestion is soon to be commissioned within the campus of Brunswick Landing. What better way to attract clean tech businesses to Maine than to be able to tell them that the power used on site will be generated onsite, as well?

Carl Eppich  Senior Transportation Planner for GPCOG and PACTS photo by Kay MannCarl Eppich of Portland Area Community Transportation System (PACTS), urban and community planner: Portland lacked a transit culture 8 years ago. A friend from the Bicycle Coalition of Maine had the idea of creating a system of signage for bicycles which is a sanctioned bicycle route system that shows people the best routes to use and what the distances are. The “Bike Route One” system will be rolling out next spring.

Next, the panelists were asked, “If you could give one piece of advice to other communities, what would it be? (Or how can we bring this to scale in Maine?)”

Donna Larson: Just figure out something to do and do it. There are many things that are scalable. I want to put the invasive green crabs in Freeport into that anaerobic digester. CMP can’t require 15 year contracts on street lights anymore. This is an opportunity for all communities in a given region to do a rapid, bulk conversion to LED streetlights.

Brooks Winner: Look for a collective solution with a broad impact. Leverage your impact by sharing what you are leaning. The Island Energy Conference is on November 6 in South Portland. An Energy Working Group for the state of Maine is being formed.

Sam Saltonstall: Communication is key and it is best to use the word “we” rather than the word “I”.

John Egan: Go talk to 10 people and change the conversation so that the phrase “climate change” becomes a non-partisan one, founded on science.

Carl Eppich: Work within communities to do test projects. Start by traveling somewhere by a different means that does not use fossil fuels. I recommend reading the book, Tactical Urbanism.

Maine State panelists at GrowSmart Maine annual meeting 2015 photo by Kay Mann


In the spirit of bringing it to scale, the next section was given to turning it over to the audience, to elicit ideas not covered by panelists.

Sean Moody of Moody’s Auto Body: We took advantage of a federal tax credit to funnel profits into a $250,000 solar project.

Jennifer Hatch of Revision Energy: Revision is developing community solar farms for people that don’t have good solar exposure. Up to nine members can invest in each solar farm, in addition to the host.

Kay Mann of the Maine Green Power program: Individuals and businesses in Maine can support the operation of renewable electricity generators here in Maine by enrolling in the Maine Green Power option sponsored by the Maine Public Utilities Commission. Informally, I call this “vicarious solar”.

Alisha of Brunswick took a self-guided bike tour from Copenhagen to Berlin this year.  An international signage system made it possible and she would love to find a way to set this up here in Maine.

Abby King of the Bicycle Coalition of Maine: BCM has started a “Community Spokes” program. This is a network of 100 people across Maine who are engaging in the local political process to advocate for bicycle transportation throughout the state.

Scott Vlaun of the Center for an Ecology Based Economy in Norway: We fixed up older bikes, painted them lime green and put them on the streets of Norway to be used for free. They have been used to apply for jobs, shop around town, etc.

Sam Saltonstall of the Peaks Environmental Action Team and Window Dressers photo by Kay MannSam Saltonstall of PEAT: The idea is to fund operation and improvements to municipal buildings with energy efficiency measures. Doing nothing is not a frugal action. A revolving loan fund can be paid for by energy savings and be carried further to help others in a community.

Eileen Wilkinson of Window Dressers: We are a nonprofit based in Rockland that makes interior storm window inserts. It has been a volunteer effort based around faith communities and is now expanding. We do community builds in order to retrofit a large number of homes, concentrated in communities. The inserts are giving people a 10-45% savings on an average heating bill.

Nancy Smith mentioned the Maine Association of Planners as a network that could be helpful. GrowSmart Maine is interested in sharing best practices and has created a website, “MakingHeadway.ME” as its community outreach wing. Mainers don’t brag enough. Please post your successes on this site because a little bragging can serve to help and inspire others.

The day concluded with a presentation of The Abundance Cycle by Professor Jay Friedlander, Sharpe-McNally Chair of Green and Socially Responsible Business at the College of the Atlantic. Watch his TED talk here.