WATERVILLE, Maine — The installation of cutting-edge equipment at the Maine Children’s Home for Little Wanderers is being counted as the latest triumph in Efficiency Maine’s quest to reduce the state’s reliance on foreign oil.
The project, which consists of humble thermostats throughout the five-building campus, wiring and a sophisticated computer panel in the dark recesses of a boiler room, may lack the luster of a more high-profile building project, but according to Executive Director Sharon Abrams, it will save the organization up to $10,000 a year for its core mission: helping children and families.
“At this time last year, this was just a dream,” Abrams said Tuesday during a press conference called in advance of Earth Day, which is Friday. “Then we heard about an Efficiency Maine grant. We’re saving money as of today.”
Efficiency Maine, an organization that was established by the Maine Legislature in 2002, provided $17,625 toward the $35,000 project. The rest was paid by the S. Douglas and Rita C. Sukeforth Charitable Foundation. The new equipment, which went online about six weeks ago, allows the organization to control the heat throughout its five-building campus from virtually any computer with an Internet connection. That means the heat will be on only when there are people present and lowered to 60 degrees when they’re not.
Originally, heating experts estimated that the new capability could save about $7,000 a year, but that figure has ballooned to $10,000 a year now that the cost of heating oil is again on the upswing.
The nonprofit Maine Children’s Home for Little Wanderers includes an early care and education center for infants through pre-school students; an adoption program; the Eskelund Community Center; a high school alternative education center and Teen Parent School Program; the Harland A. Turner Family Counseling Center; and a camp scholarship program that sends needy children to one-week camp experiences.
Altogether, those programs are served by more than 30 zones of heat, each of which can be controlled individually with the new equipment.
Paul Badeau, a spokesman for Efficiency Maine, said key factors in the decision for his organization to fund the project were that there was a financial match from another source and that there will be annual savings far into the future.
“The nice thing about this project is that it keeps giving year after year,” he said.
This project was one of 60 in Maine that were funded in 2009 with $2 million from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. Badeau said many of the fruits of those projects are just being realized now. He estimated that those 60 projects will surpass $400 million in lifetime savings.
“I think this is money well-spent,” he said.
The Maine Children’s Home project was funded through Efficiency Maine’s Commercial Grant Program. Because it was funded with one-time stimulus money, it is unlikely that Efficiency Maine will provide another round of grants like this, said Badeau. Using the proceeds from a small charge on Mainers’ utility bills and funding from the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, the organization’s quest to weatherize Maine homes and businesses will continue.
Ryan Veilleux of Cumberland-based Trident Controls Inc., the firm that installed the new technology, said the Maine Children’s Home was among the smaller organizations that have taken advantage of what he calls a building heat automation system.
“It’s nice to be able to see it used on a smaller scale,” he said. “It’s hard for a lot of organizations to get the money together to do a project like this, but it will definitely pay off.”