National group selects NMCC for energy forum

Posted Feb. 10, 2011, at 11:09 p.m.

PRESQUE ISLE,  Maine — In 2008, Northern Maine Community College launched a first-of-its-kind program in New England geared toward training wind power technicians. The first class of students began learning how to operate, maintain and repair wind turbine generators the next year.

Since then, the campus has expanded the program and made even more strides to incorporate alternative energy into its curriculum. A national nonprofit organization, Focus the Nation, has offered NMCC an opportunity to promote both the college and its courses.

Focus the Nation, which is dedicated to climate change awareness, youth empowerment and the acceleration of a transition to a clean energy economy, selected NMCC as host for a clean energy forum in Maine and has engaged a team of students to coordinate the conference. The forum will be one of 22 held around the country and the only one in the Northeast.

The Maine forum will take place 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. March 9 in the Edmunds Conference Center on the Presque Isle campus.

Information shared at the Focus the Nation Clean Energy Forum will identify roadblocks and solutions to moving the renewable energy industry forward in Maine and nationally. Findings at the “Maine Event,” as student organizers are calling their daylong session, will be used to help shape political dialogue around the issues affecting development.

Former Maine Gov. Angus King, a leading advocate for alternative energy and a principal with Independence Wind LLC, an energy development company, will deliver the keynote address. U.S. Sen. Susan Collins also will take part in the event through a videotaped message produced especially for participants.

A number of other key figures and leaders in Maine’s alternative energy industry have been invited, and the students are working to confirm their participation.

The students also are approaching other individuals to serve on a panel for an interactive dialogue in the closing session of the conference.

Benjamin Dutil, who will be among the first wind power technology program graduates this May, is helping to organize the forum. He is being assisted by Gene Martin, a business administration student, and Natalie St. Pierre, who spent the fall semester interning both at NMCC and in Collins’ Caribou constituent services office. They are being assisted by three other students, including two from the University of Maine at Presque Isle.

Dutil said Thursday that representatives of the Portland, Ore.,-based nonprofit organization approached them about hosting the event last fall.

“I think this will be an excellent chance to educate the community and jump-start a transition to a clean energy future,” he explained. “We want to answer questions that people have and clear up any misconceptions that are out there about alternative energy.”

St. Pierre agreed. She said Thursday that she believes the event will open up a dialogue both on campus and in the surrounding communities about clean energy. She said participants would identify ways to spread the development of clean energy and examine any barriers that may be in place to such development.

“I think the students are excited about it,” St. Pierre said. “It is a great way for us to showcase the campus and our corresponding curriculum.

“On campus, there is a big push to reduce our carbon footprint,” she said. “Many of our students are conscious of the recycling opportunities available, and a lot of the classrooms have sensors that turn the lights off when no one is in the room.

“I think the forum will get more people thinking about the little things each of us can do and the bigger things we can do statewide and nationwide.”

After the event, the Focus Maine student team will compile the information gathered from participants and forward an action plan to the Focus the Nation headquarters. The national organization will review all feedback and customize a support system to help teams keep event participants engaged and updated.

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