AUGUSTA, Maine — A top federal agriculture official pointed to Maine as a national success story in the use of federal stimulus funds to convert several dozen schools, town offices and other public facilities from heating with fossil fuels to wood or biomass.
Maine received $11.4 million in renewable energy grants from the American Reinvestment and Recovery Act, or nearly 23 percent of the $50 million that was awarded nationally between November 2010 and May 2011.
The grant funds were awarded to 22 projects around the state that applied for funding. Recipients include a dozen school systems and hospitals in Millinocket and Fort Kent as well as three college campuses.
Doug Crandall, undersecretary for natural resources and the environment at the U.S. Department of Agriculture, said Thursday federal officials were especially pleased to see the funding going to schools to help them convert from oil-fired furnaces to boilers that can heat from wood pellets or other renewable biomass.
Crandall said it made sense that Maine would receive a large share of the federal stimulus funds given the state’s status as the most heavily forested state in the nation and state policies that seek to increase the use of homegrown, renewable energy sources.
“Maine is a success story along those lines and the secretary [of agriculture] wanted to let people know that,” Crandall said.
The federal grants were distributed in three rounds, with the final awards being announced by the LePage administration in May.
Crandall was speaking with members of the Maine media by phone from Washington, D.C., on Thursday as part of the administration’s effort to promote their agenda to reduce the nation’s reliance on imported fossil fuels.
“We’re pretty proud that Maine has done so well and the secretary of agriculture wants to emphasize that we are taking renewable energy very seriously,” Crandall said.
His comments also come at a time when policymakers and pundits continue to debate the effectiveness of the 2009 stimulus package at creating jobs as the nation’s economy continues to struggle with high unemployment and low job growth rates.
All 22 grant recipients pledged to use Maine-sourced wood products as a way to support jobs in the state’s forestry industry.
For a map showing the full list of the 22 grant recipients in Maine, go to http://www.maine.gov/doc/mfs/arra/.