Environmental movement is a business opportunity for Maine


When you think of the Green New Deal, think of Maine and think of the money.

There has been a strong environmental movement in this state for over half a century, but environmentalism is no longer the only province of small groups of enthusiasts and idealists like the Audubon Society, the Sierra Club or the ‘Sports Alliance. Creating a sustainable environment becomes a dynamic business.

When billionaires like Bill Gates and Jeff Bezos actively scour the country for environmental startups to invest in, it’s increasingly clear that green now means money, not just chlorophyll. The convergence of a catastrophic problem – climate change – and new government policies and technologies to address this challenge has created a fortuitous moment where private investors and entrepreneurs can do well while doing good.

Businesses in Maine are already researching alternative ways to generate energy, grow food, and use wood products. The state’s abundant supply of undeveloped land, water and timber, combined with venture capital, public policy and innovation, is pushing the shoots of a green economy here.

The key to the fight against climate change is to reduce the amount of carbon dioxide (CO2) in the atmosphere. This can be done by releasing less CO2 into the air or by removing more of it. The latter is known as carbon reuptake.

Renewable energies reduce the need for fossil fuels like petroleum and coal, which are major contributors to CO2. Recycling reduces the amount of energy spent turning raw materials into usable products, not to mention the volume of non-biodegradable waste polluting land and water.

Carbon reuptake is a more difficult problem, although nature has already provided a very efficient mechanism for photosynthesis. Trees and other plants use the sun’s energy to separate carbon atoms from CO2 to create sugars, starches and cellulose which are then incorporated into the leaves, stems, roots and wood fibers. (Scientists are also working on genetic engineering methods to improve the efficiency of various plants by removing CO2 from the air and storing it in the soil.)

Like bubbles on the surface of a pot of boiling water, information about Maine’s burgeoning green economy began to appear with increasing regularity.

In March, Nautilis Solar Energy LLC, a New Jersey company, announced it was investing $ 100 million in 11 community solar farms in Maine (one of them adjacent to the Oxford Plains Speedway in Oxford) which would generate 54 megawatts, enough to meet the demand for electricity. approximately 13,000 households. That same month, the Lewiston Planning Board approved a New York developer’s application for a conditional use permit to build a 20-megawatt, 101-acre solar panel off Sabattus Street.

Maine’s solar explosion is in part the result of improved technology that has dramatically reduced the cost and improved efficiency of solar panels over the past decade. But it is also the product of net energy billing, a state program, expanded in 2019, which encourages solar. Net metering provides the operator with credit, part of which is passed on to its customers, for the excess renewable energy it produces and sends to the grid.

Wind power is already big business in Maine, producing over 900 megawatts, but it’s starting to move from land to sea. The Mills administration is working on a proposal to get federal regulatory approval to lease. 16 square miles of ocean between 20 and 40 miles off the coast of Maine for a 12-turbine offshore wind project that would connect to the Yarmouth or Wiscasset power grid.

Last Sunday, the Sun Journal ran an article about Springworks, an aquaponics company in Lisbon founded by a 26-year-old Bowdoin College graduate. It is the largest operation of its kind in New England, growing one million heads of lettuce per year and simultaneously raising nearly 50,000 tilapia fish in a closed circulating water system.

Aquaponics is a form of sustainable agriculture that uses fewer resources (land, water, and fertilizer) to produce more products and create less waste. At Springworks, lettuce is grown floating in water tanks, rather than submerged in the ground, with nutrients supplied by wastes pumped from fish swimming in other tanks. Lettuce uses these nutrients to grow while purifying the water, which is then recycled. The operation, carried out in greenhouses, gives 20 times more products per area than a traditional farm, uses 90% less water and allows a growing season all year round.

At the University of Maine Forest Bioproducts Institute, university researchers are working with industry to create sustainable forest bioproducts using advanced fuels, chemicals and materials. According to the Institute’s website, its research projects include compressing small pieces of wood and glue into large composite wood pieces for building construction, creating plastic-like cellulose products that degrade when used. ‘long exposure to water and that could replace single use. plastics and the conversion of woody biomass into liquid fuels and chemicals.

Gone are the days when environmentalists were ridiculed by the business community as “green”. Now it is the business community that embraces the trees – if not out of veneration of nature but in pursuit of profit.

Elliott Epstein is trial attorney with Andrucki & King in Lewiston. His Rearview Mirror column, published in the Sun Journal for 10 years, analyzes the news in a historical context. He is also the author of “Lucifer Child,” a book about the famous 1984 childhood murder of Angela Palmer. He can be contacted at [email protected]

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