Many see big growth in Maine’s renewable energy potential. James W. Sewall Co., a Maine-based company with 140 years of civil engineering experience, has a view of that future from the ground up.
For our first piece in a series of interviews with Sewall’s experts, we speak with Kay Rand, who sits on Sewall’s board of directors as an outside member. Rand has decades of experience in Maine and national politics, most recently as Senator Angus King’s Chief of Staff in Washington D.C. She shares her perspective on why the time is now for Maine’s renewable energy economy.
Q: Why is there so much attention on Maine’s renewable energy potential right now?
Kay Rand: Economic interest and public support are gaining momentum, and there are many ways to make the most of that in the state. For example, Maine is famous for trees, and as lumber and paper companies have closed, it’s important for the state to think about what else can be done with trees and with other natural resources. This has led to the development of using wood byproducts for diesel and heating oil. And, even if projects like these are not yet being actively commercialized, it’s great to have a state that wants to see success and is supportive of the research and the work that goes into projects like these.
Q: Isn’t there bigger potential in the better-known renewables like solar and wind?
KR: It’s important to look beyond just the bigger, more recognizable projects to think about diversity in renewable energy sources, and also to consider what resources are already here and how rural communities can work within the types of industries they already know and are equipped for. Places like Old Town and Millinocket want to revive and reuse industrial sites and transition the regional paper economies. Maine still has an abundance of fiber and trees, and the idea of making clean electricity out of wood residue is a powerful one for Maine.
Q: What are some other state-wide efforts that are helping Maine’s renewable energy efforts?
KR: Maine’s Renewable Energy Association is a trade organization that works to support the development of renewable energy projects in Maine. This group has been around long enough to have a perspective on what types of projects have longevity and to see beyond some of the feast or famine patterns that can come with changing times or interests. The Maine Development Foundation and its FOR/Maine effort is a non-profit entity that is working to diversify Maine’s wood-based businesses by bringing investments and other resources to fill the voids brought by mill closures. These organizations are doing great work and, the overall momentum is growing on many fronts now.
Q: Tell me how Sewall’s work fits in here.
KR: It’s important to have people who know Maine and live here to be part of the process of developing new and renewable energy projects here. For instance, we want people to know that, where there is a wood basket, there is renewable potential. A forest-based renewable project can be seen as more tangible to the Penobscot River region than a solar or wind project at this point. Having a 140-year company based in Old Town as part of the process shows that many parts of Maine can change with the times.