June 24, 2018
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Former Navy base in transformation to renewable energy hub

Christopher Cousins | BDN
Christopher Cousins | BDN
This building, under construction on Thursday, June 21, 2012, at the former Brunswick Naval Air Station by an organization called Molnlycke Health Care, employs construction techniques that will make it LEAD-like certified, according to Steve Levesque, executive director of the Midcoast Regional Redevelopment Authority. Energy-efficient buildings and a renewable energy center are being emphasized in the redevelopment of the former Navy base.
By Christopher Cousins, BDN Staff

BRUNSWICK, Maine — The former Brunswick Naval Air Station could become a center for the research and development of green energy solutions that benefit tenants at the former base with lower electricity costs if plans that have been in the works for several years move forward.

The former base, which is now known as Brunswick Landing: Maine’s Center for Innovation, is in the process of transferring from ownership by the Department of Defense to private hands. Steve Levesque, executive director of the Midcoast Regional Redevelopment Authority, said approximately 70 percent of the land there will have been turned over by the Navy by next week.

Today, the property is rife with contrasts between gleaming new and renovated buildings and former military facilities that for the most part haven’t been altered since the Navy moved out a year ago. One thing the Navy left behind is a closed-loop electricity delivery system that Levesque said opens the door for an ambitious project that years from now could result in a private electrical grid where electricity is generated on-site and sold to tenants at rates cheaper than what is available almost anywhere else.

“This isn’t sexy stuff,” said Levesque. “But it could become a major advantage.”

The idea of creating a renewable energy center at Brunswick Landing traces back to the BNAS Reuse Master Plan, which was developed several years ago as a guiding document in the redevelopment of the base. Between then and now, the base redevelopment authority has been systematically setting the groundwork for the construction of a power generation plant on the property, an effort which has benefitted from $500,000 in grants from the Economic Development Administration, the Environmental Protection Agency and the Maine Technology Institute.

With planning and feasibility studies for the project wrapping up, Levesque said the Midcoast Regional Redevelopment Authority, or MRRA, is beginning conversations with various entities that are interested in building a renewable energy generation plant on the property, involving either forest products or natural gas, which is already piped onto the property.

The power generated by the plant would benefit tenants within the BNAS property, but the electrical grid it sends electricity through also could be a major advantage to researchers aiming to test new power-generation technologies in a closed-loop system. Those technologies could involve everything from solar and wind power to emerging ways of converting animal waste into energy.

“We want to be a living laboratory of new technologies,” said Levesque.

The MRRA is working with consultant group Environmental Energy and Technology Council of Maine, or E2Tech, to identify possible business partners in the energy generation venture. Levesque said those talks are so preliminary that he doesn’t know whether the partner will be a nonprofit agency, private business, or perhaps the MRRA itself. Regardless, he hopes that the at least 5-gigawatt energy generation plant will be up and running as soon as two years from now.

As it stands, the MRRA buys electricity in bulk and meters it out to tenants in the closed-loop system for about 8 cents per kilowatt hour, which is a significant discount from the cost most residents and businesses in Maine already pay. Levesque said the on-site energy generation project could push that rate even lower.

Levesque said the project is part of a larger goal of making Brunswick Landing a place where new technologies can be developed and tested, and making the property as self-sustaining as possible. Part of that effort has involved creating efficiencies on the base, such as swapping out sodium-arc street lighting for LED lights, upgrading heating systems and emphasizing green construction techniques in new buildings. One example of the latter initiative is unfolding in the form of a building under construction by Molnlycke Health Care. Levesque said that building is maximizing the use of energy-efficient technology as much as possible.

Not far away, a group of businesses including Dow Corning, a company named Dryvit and others are installing a cutting-edge insulation technology on what in years past was the BNAS veterinary clinic. Steve Altum of Dow Corning and Roland Serino of Dryvit were at the site Thursday with a crew that was installing energy-efficient windows and a new sheathing that uses vacuum pressure to achieve an insulation rating of around R-30. An inch-thick layer of the new material can accomplish what eight inches of fiberglass insulation can, said Serino.

Altum said once construction is complete in July, data will be collected for a year to determine the effectiveness of the new system.

Levesque said he hopes to see more projects like the one at the former vet clinic. But movement on that project and many others could be in jeopardy if the MRRA is unable to access bond funding that the Legislature and Maine voters approved in 2009. Gov. Paul LePage has said he won’t issue those bonds until perhaps 2014, when the state is in better fiscal health — unless the agencies in line for the funding make compelling cases.

Levesque said Brunswick Landing is in line for about $1.8 million in bond proceeds, which in turn will trigger another $1.7 million in matching funds from the Economic Development Administration. That money is earmarked for safety and building code improvements at several buildings, as well as the demolition of other structures. But Levesque said the MRRA hasn’t given up on receiving the bond funding in the short term because LePage has said he is open to being convinced of the money’s necessity.

“He didn’t say an absolute ‘no,’” said Levesque. “He just wants to make sure the bond money is absolutely necessary.”

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