Food, energy, tourism and other businesses in Maine are using $119,700 from the federal government to help pay for energy efficiency upgrades that could help them become more self-sufficient and expand.
The grants to 13 Maine companies are part of $63 million in awards to 264 projects nationwide under the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s 13-year-old Rural Energy for America Program, in amounts ranging from $3,600 to $19,980.
In Aroostook County, Buck Farms of Mapleton is using a $5,000 grant to help pay for a biomass boiler supporting a nascent malt grain business — “Maine’s first malt house,” according to Jacob Buck, the market manager of the third generation farm.
On the coast, Bar Harbor Community Farm received $6,868 to purchase and install an 8.4 kilowatt solar photovoltaic system on its seedling greenhouse, and Wilbur’s of Maine Chocolate Confections in Freeport won $12,159 to buy and install a 15.4 kilowatt solar photovoltaic system that could replace more than 13 percent of the company’s energy demands.
“The grants to these 13 businesses will help them achieve long-term sustainability through lower energy costs,” USDA Rural Development Under Secretary Lisa Mensah said in a statement. “They also will help preserve Maine’s pristine environment by utilizing renewable energy sources.”
A 1,000 acre operation, Buck Farms has been diversifying away from potatoes, growing grains, oats, barley and canola, and selling barley to Canada Malting Company and Gritty McDuff’s Brewing Company, which uses it in the Mapleton Blonde and Blueberry Blonde ales.
Now, Buck and his brother Joshua are trying to go deeper into the malt market by converting an unheated potato storage facility into a malting facility heated with wood pellets and biomass from the farm.
“We wanted to set up a brewery to test out our malt. It’ll be a pilot size,” said Buck, a recent University of Maine electrical engineering graduate. “Since we need heat for a granary in the winter and hot water for a lab, we’re putting in a biomass boiler.”
The biomass boiler, using wood pellets, sub-par grains or straw, will be more affordable than using oil, he said.
Among the other winners of the USDA grants are: County Energy Solutions of Fort Fairfield, ($6,792); Thompson Cottages of New Harbor ($3,600); F.W. Thurston Co. of Bernard ($11,738); Frederic Flewelling of Crouseville ($4,499); North Country Rivers of Bingham ($7,772) Paris Auto Barn of South Paris ($12,397); TMDE Calibration Labs of Richmond ($18,750); Keena Tracy of Lisbon Falls ($4,554); JG SL Partners of Freeport ($5,590); and Solonely Acres of Solon ($19,980).