Casco begins energy efficiency talks

By Dawn De Busk
Staff Writer

CASCO – Like the knights at King Arthur’s table sworn to protect the kingdom, a small group of residents took part in a round table talk on taking steps toward a more energy-efficient community.

No one is planning to pick up sword and shield to fight the battle to reduce energy costs. Instead, the tools will be providing information to the public about energy audits and available rebates, creating collaborations, and identifying quick cost-saving fixes Casco could take on.

For most homeowners, taxpayers and stewards of public property, the motivating factor for swearing allegiance to energy conservation in their community: More about saving money than saving the environment.

Dana Fischer, residential program specialist with Efficiency Maine, said inflated heating oil prices hit close to home. Many families owning drafty New England houses are forced to endure cold rooms, succumb to more common colds, and function with less disposable income, he said.

“If all of us can make dramatic improvements in our households, we are improving our economy for our neighborhood,” Fischer said.

During the past seven months, Efficiency Maine assisted in winterizing 1,800 homes, and providing 25 to 50 percent savings through those upgrades, he said.

On Monday, residents of Casco and neighboring communities joined officials from the Town of Casco and School Administrative District No. 61 in an organized discussion with a panel of experts on how to implement ideas for reducing energy costs – for both public buildings and private residential homes.

Volunteers from the Institute for Civic Leadership facilitated the meeting. The group of eight individuals is working on a practicum project, which has the goal of coming to communities and guiding participants on ways to address energy conservation, according to member Bill Mann.

The format of Monday’s meeting allowed people with expertise in energy conservation to give brief presentations with question-and-answer sessions built in.

One of the speakers, Paul Weiss, with Cumberland Cool Cities, advised “grabbing that low hanging fruit,” to get instant gratification and public support by starting with easy, low-cost changes that are not controversial.

Changes as simple as switching to LED lighting on street lamps could whittle down town budget expenses, Weiss said.

Another project could be to map out driving habits and promote commuting, he said. That project would have a dual goal of lowering emission and saving gasoline costs.

Other topics discussed included: energy audits, installing solar panels, solar heated water systems, thermal heating, wind mill ordinances and feasibility studies, and transportation.

According to institute member Mann, Casco residents have a real world application of going green as they address what to do with an aging school building.

“The Memorial School – there’s talk about re-use of that building as the town offices. You could get an energy audit, and see how to retrofit. If that were the path you were too move forward with, you could use it as an education tool for the community,” Mann told the group.

“It’s a keystone project, because you have to do it anyway,” he said, adding that the institute’s members would help guide the discussions.

Also, free energy audits of town buildings are an available resource.

The next step for the Casco Board of Selectmen is to create an Energy Efficiency Committee, and to raise public awareness about the need for people to serve on the committee, according to Chairman Barbara York, who expressed interest in sitting on the committee, too.

“My thought is that the (Request for Proposals) RFPs for remodeling the school could have an additional attachment of possible energy savings,” York said, she added that was her personal suggestion because the board hasn’t voted on it yet.

Casco Town Manager Dave Morton voiced concern about interest level – given only a handful of people showed up for a publicized meeting.

“It’s difficult to get everyone on board. A couple of selectmen are really interested in energy conservation. There wasn’t enough enthusiasm to move forward on PACE until June town meeting,” he said.

“How do we get more people excited about this?” Morton asked.

Weiss reported on how Cumberland drummed up interest among community members.

“A science teacher is your best friend,” Weiss said. Because any viable green project requires recording before-and-after data, bringing on educators in the science fields can be helpful.

“I would recommend young people, too. We had two or three high schoolers on our committee. They had great ideas, and knew how to balance a project” by utilizing social-networking websites, he said.

“Two or three people who are motivated can make a big difference,” Weiss said.

“Go for that low hanging fruit. You have one success, and you’ll have more people coming in here to join,” he said.

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