More than 100 entrepreneurs who aim to lead Maine away from oil dependency and toward a renewable energy and sustainable business future gathered at the Pelonton Labs in Portland’s West End Monday night for the E2Tech Midsummer Mixer.
The party filled the new co-working space and featured appetizers prepared by Local Sprouts Cooperative Cafe and drinks from Baxter Brewing Co., Maine Mead Works and Shipyard Brewing Co. A bluegrass quintet composed of Darol Anger, Jon Cooper, Joe Walsh, Emy Phelps and Amanda Kowalski added an upbeat soundtrack to the affair, and the artwork of Sebastian Meade graced the walls.
When E2Tech board co-chair Jim Atwell addressed the crowd about halfway through the party, he told us “E2Tech is a trade association for environmental and technology businesses in Maine.”
Next month, E2Tech starts up its monthly breakfast speaker series, which will continue through June. The next breakfast forum takes place Sept. 20 and will offer an update on environmental and energy legislation.
“In the last few years, with interest in clean tech growing, the organization has really taken off,” Atwell told me before he addressed the crowd. “In Maine the growth of the clean tech sector is more rapid than other sectors (of Maine business).”
While at the podium, Atwell announced a new initiative launched in partnership with Maine Businesses for Sustainability. The two nonprofits have created the Clean Tech Business Collaborative, which is a trade association for companies working in Maine’s clean technology arena.
“We feel in Maine we’re not about competition, we’re about collaboration,” David Widener, who is board president of Maine Businesses for Sustainability, told the crowd.
Developer Peter Bass, who built the Pelonton Labs where Binga’s Wingas used to stand, welcomed the guests to the airy space and said, “We encourage people to come out of their coffee shops and home offices and join our shared office space.”
The labs offer an a la carte monthly rental plan, where business owners can get anything from a few hours access to the conference rooms to 24/7 access to all the amenities, plus dedicated office space.
Pelonton Labs provided a perfect spot for this innovative group.
“You have some of the leaders in clean energy technology in Maine in the room,” said Jeff Marks, who is the deputy director of policy and planning in the Governor’s Office of Energy Independence and Security. “I’m here to learn about their technologies and see how they might fit into state policy.”
Marks also told me that energy independence “is not a partisan issue. We all want to keep Maine residents warm.”
But most shocking to me was when he said that “Maine exports about $5 billion a year in oil dollars.”
This unfortunate energy reality was echoed by Bill Strauss, the director of Maine Energy Systems, when he told me, “Almost 80 percent of homes in Maine use oil.”
The Bethel-based company installs super-efficient wood pellet boilers in schools, businesses, municipal buildings and homes, and supplies them with pellets.
“People who buy a system get the fuel price locked in for three years,” Strauss said.
I also had a chance to chat with Tom Brubaker, who is the clean technology manager for the Midcoast Regional Redevelopment Authority, otherwise known as Brunswick Landing.
“We want the campus to be net zero” in terms of energy usage, Brubaker told me. “We’re working with the E2Tech council on a renewable energy feasibility study.”
Brubaker also told me about the new Southern Maine Community College campus being set up on the former Brunswick Naval Air Station. The campus will house the Maine Advanced Technology & Engineering Center, which will educate students in many fields related to clean technology.
Everyone I spoke with praised E2Tech’s ability to bring people together.
“E2Tech is a great place to connect with people who are in the green economy,” said Heather Chandler, the founder and president of the Sunrise Guide. The yearly publication provides resources and coupons for sustainable, local and green products in Maine.
“E2Tech is a great networking opportunity, especially for small businesses,” Cindy Talbot, who provides technical writing for environmental and energy firms, told me. “The monthly forums are a great way to keep in touch with what’s going on in the field. I’ve gotten a fair number of clients from E2Tech.”
Former director of the Governor’s Office of Energy Independence and current director of the Maine Office of Environment Northeast, Beth Nagusky, told me, “E2Tech is a great way to have clean energy businesses get together to network and promote green jobs, which I think is the next economic revolution in Maine and the nation.”
Staff Writer Avery Yale Kamila can be contacted at 791-6297 or at: