FORT KENT — A Danish graduate student this week offered preliminary data that could help St. John Valley develop its own sustainable energy systems.

Fritz Wochinger, who is working on his master’s thesis at Aalborg University in Denmark, spent several months as an intern with the town of Fort Kent and the University of Maine Center for Rural Sustainable Development.

On Wednesday he was back in Fort Kent — thanks to modern technology — as part of a live broadcast from Europe, giving his presentation, “Sustainable Energy Perspectives for the Upper St. John Valley.”

Wochinger’s goal while an intern was “to develop sound solutions based on broad investigation and evaluation of the region’s current energy situation and the potential to develop a sustainable regional energy system.”

During his internship he worked with Fort Kent to gather demographic data, infrastructure information and opportunities for renewable resources in the area.

“The town is hopeful that the results from [Wochinger’s] model will be instructive in developing a long-term energy plan for the community,” John Bannen, Fort Kent director of planning and economic development, said. “The whole idea is to give perspective on what can be done.”

While Wochinger’s data are preliminary, the Center for Rural Sustainable Development’s University of Maine Fort Kent-based director is encouraged by what he has seen.

“We were excited to have something like this study done,” Brian Kermath said. “It’s going to start the conversations we need to have, and that’s where things start.”

Kermath said that, as an academic institution, it is the place of UMFK to foster those discussions with events like Wochinger’s teleconference.

“We produce and deliver information,” he said. “It is now my hope we will soon have a report that will be the first in a series of reports this center produces working with faculty and interns.”

Bannen said Wochinger’s model for sustainable energy in the St. John Valley began with the intern examining the electricity usage throughout the area against any and all potential forms of renewable energy including solar, wind and biomass, including biogasification.

Wochinger then analyzed those options to determine which were the most practical for northern Maine.

“The indicators all basically pointed toward wind,” Bannen said. “Now the idea is to see, if we want a self-serving and self-sustaining energy model for the upper St. John Valley, how many windmills are needed.”

Bannen said Wochinger’s work is a great start in addressing overall energy use, not only in the St. John Valley, but in individual communities as well.

“It will give people an awareness of what needs to be done,” he said. “Then we can get an idea of how to get going in that direction to get the benefits over a long period of time.”

Wochinger is still wrapping up the results from his work, Kermath said, but he hopes they can be made public soon.

“My hope is this work can be used to continue the message that we can do small-scale renewable energy here,” Kermath said. “Fritz’s work will show these are limits we have, but these are the opportunities we also have.”

Julia Bayly

Julia Bayly

Julia Bayly is a reporter at the Bangor Daily News with a regular bi-weekly column. Julia has been a freelance travel writer/photographer since 2000.