Northern Maine Community College to host second energy forum

Posted March 05, 2012, at 6:57 p.m.

PRESQUE ISLE, Maine — After the success of its inaugural conference last year, Northern Maine Community College is gearing up to hold a forum on the status and future development of alternative energy in Maine.

The forum, FTN 2.0 Biomass and Beyond, will be held at NMCC on Wednesday, March 7. The daylong conference brings together stakeholders and those interested in all forms of alternative energy from across the state. The event also will look at the emerging biomass energy industry that has advanced significantly over the past two years, particularly in northern Maine.

The forum is being coordinated by a team of students under the guidance of Focus the Nation, a clean energy youth empowerment organization. The organization selected NMCC as a national partner for a second year to raise awareness and move the country toward clean energy solutions. NMCC joins the Massachusetts Institute of Technology as the only two schools in New England to carry the Focus the Nation banner in 2012.

Natalie St. Pierre, a graduate student from Presque Isle, is one of five student organizers. She said that the group concentrated on finding speakers who were familiar with all types of alternative energy, particularly biomass.

“Biomass seems to be making a huge impact here,” she said Monday. “Last year’s conference touched on it, but a lot of the focus was on wind power. This year, we will be talking more about biomass and we’ll also be updating participants on the progress made in terms of overcoming the roadblocks to a clean energy future that we talked about at last year’s event.”

Organizers have secured several leaders within the alternative energy sector, including Dr. William Strauss, president and founder of Bethel-based FutureMetrics LLC and director of Maine Energy Systems; and Gerard Chasse, president and chief operating officer of Bangor Hydro-Electric Co.

Strauss, the keynote speaker, leads FutureMetrics, a consulting firm that has become recognized as a leading domestic expert in the economics of the production and use of biomass fuels. He also serves as managing partner of FutureEnergy Partners LLC, which specializes in enabling inventors of cutting-edge technology in the energy sector to move from idea to commercial product.

Strauss will share his findings on the economic impact and viability of biomass energy production with special focus on Maine.

Organizers said that the data he will provide will be especially timely as more than a dozen biomass boilers are now in operation, planned or under construction within Aroostook County, including at NMCC. These operations reportedly will provide more than $20 million directly to the region’s economy.

Chasse, who leads Bangor Hydro, which is owned by Emera Inc., the Halifax-based energy services company that acquired Maine Public Service Co., will lead the day’s discussion with an update on a proposal to connect the Maine Public Service system to the rest of the Maine and New England electric grid. The lack of that connector was identified by participants in last year’s Maine Focus the Nation Forum as the key roadblock to the development of substantial alternative energy generation in northern Maine.

Chasse also will speak on the changing energy landscape in Maine and his company’s efforts in the development of alternative energy.

The afternoon session will feature a panel discussion with four statewide advocates of alternative energy: Todd J. Griset, a lawyer with Preti Flaherty’s energy and telecommunications group based in Portland; Andrew Plant with the University of Maine Cooperative Extension, who has been researching liquid and solid biofuel for farmers; Thomas Wood, senior planner for the Maine Forest Service Department of Conservation, who is responsible for grants for biomass projects awarded in the state; and Robert Dorsey, president and CEO of the Aroostook Partnership for Progress, which leads the Mobilize Northern Maine initiative.

St. Pierre said that approximately 80 people have registered for the event, about the same number as last year. A number of attendees are NMCC students.

Other organizers include Gene Martin of Mapleton, Nathan Woods of Rumford, Jessica Ouellette of Caribou and Jeff Kiser of Plaster Rock, New Brunswick.

For information on FTN 2.0 Biomass and Beyond, visit the Focus the Nation website at www.focusthenation.org and click on the icon by the state of Maine. Interested individuals also can learn more by calling the development and college relations office at NMCC at 768-2810.

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