State awards student-written grant to Sustain Mid-Maine for
On Feb. 12, the City of Waterville and the Town of Winslow won a $170,000 government grant from the State of Maine Energy Efficiency Conservation Block Grant program. For Steve Erario '10, who spearheaded the grant proposal, winning the grant is the culmination of nearly three years of work with the local governments to make the greater Waterville area more eco-friendly and sustainable.
Erario, an environmental studies major, joined the team that was already working on the proposal in October of 2009 as an independent study. As one of the founding members of Sustain Mid-Maine (SMM), a government-sponsored organization focused on finding ways to make the greater Waterville area as sustainable and energy-efficient as possible, winning this grant was by no means Erario's first contribution to local environmental efforts.
In the summer of 2007, between his freshman and sophomore years, Erario found an internship with the City of Waterville helping to put together a sustainability plan for the city. He continued working with the local government after classes started up again and his original project gave him the opportunity to help create the City of Waterville Sustainability Committee.
Erario has stayed in Waterville every summer since, spending the summer of 2008 helping two Colby students replicate in Fairfield and Winslow the same sustainability plan he first took on the year before. He then spent the summer of 2009 directing three new student interns from the College in an energy-planning project with SMM.
The grant the City recently won came from a $5.75 million grant from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, a part of the Obama administration's stimulus package.
"The plan we devised is in line with local and national efforts and aspirations to accelerate energy conservation, the use of renewable resources and the creation of productive jobs for the future," John Joseph, SMM Energy Committee chair and co-author of the grant, said.
With the grant money, SMM will impact between 250 and 300 homes, saving the homeowners an estimated $115 thousand at current oil prices.
Erario said that what they plan to accomplish with the grant money is to provide local citizens with a "one stop shopping approach for home energy improvements." SMM plans to provide 100 homes with basic home energy efficiency improvements like major air sealing and improved insulation. For another 100 homes that prove they can pay for more costly improvements, SMM will help subsidize the costs of home energy efficiency. "Furthermore, if a home is already very efficient and wants to install solar hot water," Erario said, "we will fully subsidize that assessment and arrange for financing and joint purchasing to lower the cost to homeowners."
Additionally, roughly $10,000 from the grant will go toward a prefeasibility study for a wood-fired cogeneration plant. When any power plant burns fuel for electricity, it wastes an enormous amount of heat in the form of unused steam or hot water. The theory behind cogeneration is that the planet can capture that wasted heat and use it to power other processes. For example, Backyard Farms, the local company based in Madison, Maine that provides all the tomatoes served in the College's dining halls, grows their vegetables in local heated greenhouses, powered by excess heat from electricity generation.
Erario said he is excited because "so much more money is likely coming in from the state and federal levels for home energy improvements" and both the Governor of Maine John Baldacci (D) and President Barack Obama have endorsed the type of energy efficiency and sustainability projects SMM is pursuing.
"If our innovative program overcomes a lot of the barriers other efforts have failed to address in the past, this could position the area to get a boatload of money," Erario said, as currently 85 percent of the money homeowners spend on oil goes out of state, and a large part of that goes overseas.
Not only will lowering energy costs keep businesses competitive and keeps jobs in Maine, but SMM's new programs will also create about a dozen local jobs. In addition, Erario said, all of the money saved on home energy efficiency stays "exactly where it should be: in citizen's pockets."