A group of 14 Mainers representing the government and business sectors as well as nonprofit organizations will travel to Denmark this week as part of a “climate tour” aimed at learning about energy policy and sustainability from a country often regarded as a global “green” leader.

The six-day tour follows two others to Denmark, led by the College of the Atlantic and the University of Southern Maine, but is the first offered to adult professionals, according to organizers Sue Inches and Nancy Smith. The pair said the tour also comes at a time when some local communities and businesses are taking leadership roles on environmental issues amid continuing policy disagreements between the LePage administration and lawmakers in Augusta, and among federal policymakers in Washington.

“That’s why the emphasis is on communities and local action here,” said Inches, a consultant who formerly worked as deputy director of the now-defunct Maine State Planning Office. “We are seeing they can move ahead and take action regardless of what the state is doing. And it is interesting because I think that if communities can demonstrate success, then that will move the state forward and the state can catch up.”

Denmark, population 5.6 million, has a reputation as a leader on the issue of sustainability and renewable energy.

Wind turbines supply more than 25 percent of the electricity used in Denmark and the wind power industry employs roughly 25,000 people, according to government statistics. The Danish government claims it is well on its way to meeting a goal of obtaining 50 percent of energy supplies from renewable “clean energy” sources by 2020 and aims to be 100 percent independent of fossil fuels by 2050. The capital of Copenhagen aims to be carbon-neutral – by taking action to remove as much carbon dioxide from the atmosphere as it puts in – by 2025.

The group headed to Denmark includes two state lawmakers and representatives of Diversified Communications, Coastal Enterprises Inc., the U.S. Small Business Administration, The Nature Conservancy, the Mt. Abram ski resort and USM. Three municipalities – Falmouth, Freeport and Eastport – also are sending representatives.


Eastport City Manager Elaine Abbott said she believes less-populated areas such as her city need to learn how to be more self-sufficient and sustainable. Abbott said she is most excited to visit Samso Island, a community of roughly 4,000 people about 10 miles off the coast. Samso is 100 percent energy-independent, generating all of its electricity from wind or biomass sources.

“They are completely carbon-neutral, so I cannot wait to see how they have done this,” Abbott said.

Inches and Smith, who is executive director of the organization GrowSmart Maine, acknowledged that many of the sustainability trends occurring in Denmark are also happening in Maine, albeit on a smaller level. There are currently more than 200 commercial wind turbines operating in Maine. Wind power facilities either operating or under construction in the state have a maximum generation capacity of more than 700 megawatts of electricity.

Paper mills and other facilities burn biomass for electricity while the percentage of Maine homes dependent on heating oil has declined as more homeowners switch to cleaner-burning natural gas or wood pellets. Yet the state still imports an estimated $5 billion in fossil fuel energy annually for both heat and transportation.

Smith said the group is interested in learning how Danish officials have secured “buy-in” on the energy goals from citizens and communities, especially when it comes to technologies such as wind power. In Maine, many larger wind power projects have run into opposition from neighbors concerned about noise, vibrations and light flicker from the spinning turbine blades, as well as the massive structures’ impact on the landscape.

In addition to visiting Samso Island, the group plans to meet with Copenhagen officials and representatives of the Danish Wind Industry Association, and to tour biomass and solar energy facilities as well as a large manure-to-energy plant.

Participants are either paying their own way for the tour or using scholarships from money raised for the tour.


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