Remember “The Wreck of the Hesperus,” Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s famous poem about a schooner sailing a wintry sea? That’s the one with the gale from the Northeast, the falling snow “hissing the brine,” the wind a “stinging blast” and the skipper and his little daughter turned into frozen corpses, “all stiff and stark.” Cheery stuff.

Maybe that kind of evocative language is what comes of growing up in a chilly brick building in Portland in the early 19th century. Longfellow’s family home, now the Wadsworth-Longfellow House museum, is one of the historical buildings that a program called Grants to Green Maine aims to help with energy issues. In downtowns throughout the state, the program provides matching funds for energy audits and retrofitting to fix windows and air leaks, and slice an oil or electricity bill in half.

We called up Anne Ball, project director for Grants to Green Maine, to find out where the funding came from and where it is going. We also learned what a Green Champion is and what all this has to do with Hot-lanta.

HOW MANY ORGANIZATIONS DOES IT TAKE TO SCREW IN AN LED LIGHTBULB? Grants to Green Maine represents a partnership of three entities, the Maine Development Foundation’s Maine Downtown Center, Efficiency Maine and the Maine Community Foundation. All agree that thriving downtowns are drivers of local economies and that heating historic structures is harder than dirt in Fort Kent on a February morning. Grants to Green Maine is funded by a $1.25 million grant from the Kendeda Fund of the Community Foundation for Greater Atlanta. Yes, that is a lot of names.

The Kendeda Fund, which the magazine Inside Philanthropy described  as “one of the most active and influential mid-level environmental funders” was founded by Diana Blank in 1993. It gives grants of between $40 and $50 million annually.

BALL’S BACKGROUND: In sixth grade in Marblehead, Massachusetts, Ball and her classmates were given an assignment to learn about architectural history by walking around the old downtown sketching buildings’ features. “I learned what a mansard roof was, and I just loved it,” she said. She has a master’s in historic preservation from Boston University.” “I drive my family crazy because I drive them around Maine and am just like ‘Oh, look at those windows!’ “


HER TASK: Getting the energy people to understand the historical perspective and the historical people to understand the energy talk is a key part of her job. Like why it matters so much that those drafty windows be rehabbed instead of replaced. “I always joke that I am kind of like the peacekeeper because I try to get everybody to understand each other’s languages,” Ball said.

HOW TO? Nonprofits can find out if they are eligible usually about two days after submitting an application. The building must have historical significance (not just limited to established historical landmarks), belong to a 501 (c)(3) nonprofit and have at least one full-time or two part-time staffers (damn, our house isn’t going to qualify). One grantee so far is the Sarah Orne Jewett House Museum and Visitor Center ($2,000 for an energy assessment and audit) in South Berwick. The Portland Museum of Art is scheduled to have an audit soon, as is the Wadsworth-Longfellow House, now open from May to October only.

A nonprofit forwards its proposed plan based on the audit, and the partnership determines what they can fund. “Maybe they want a heat pump or a heating system they can turn on or off remotely in case there is a storm,” Ball said. “It is up to our advisers to determine which energy savings measures are going to have the best payback periods.”

SUSTAINABILITY, TWO WAYS: The Abbe Museum, an 1893 landmark in Bar Harbor, and The Island Institute, located in an 1850, four-story brick building in Rockland, have both been through the process and are basking in reduced utility bills. Whether it is an art museum or a nonprofit, when the building becomes more sustainable, so does the institution. “It makes so much sense to me,” Ball said. “This is why I am so passionate about it. They can take that money and put it right back into their mission.”

WE ARE THE CHAMPIONS: No data is available yet on how well all this works, but “we are going to have amazing data,” Ball said. Grants to Green Maine is training recipients to work with the online tool Energy Star Portfolio Manager to track energy costs, now and forever. “It’s our hope that these organizations continue to do this long after Grants to Green.”

Every organization is also required to appoint a Green Champion to champion “all things energy efficiency to whoever wants to listen.” Might be a volunteer or a board member or a staffer, but all these champions are tasked with challenging the people they work with to do better. (“You really need those lights on, Mike?”)


GOODY GOODY? OK, they sound a bit like taskmasters/cheerleaders, not our favorite combination. But Ball says the regular meetings Grants to Green Maine holds to bring the various champions together are “cool.” “I love these meetings,” she said. “Every time we have one I walk away and say, ‘God, these are amazing.’ ” There is a lot of sharing going on of the “what is your brand of thermostat” variety, but more than that, “there is a lot of – OK, this is kind of ironic – good energy. People who are really excited about how much they are saving.”

GLASS HOUSES: How efficient is Ball’s home in Yarmouth? She laughed. It’s historic, given that it was built in 1885. “We have had an audit done. It’s probably like a B minus. I would love it if it was better, and we do have a new addition off the back that is very energy efficient. It’s dealing with the old part of the house that is the problem. I am probably just like your average Mainer with an old house.”

EMPTY KITTY? The funding for this three-year program runs out at the end of 2016, but there are still plenty of historic downtown buildings that need energy efficiency upgrades. Will the Kendeda Fund open its purse again? That’s an unanswered question, but “with our group of advisers we are going to figure out how to (keep it going). Because the demand does exceed the funds.”

CORRECTION: This story was updated at 8:53 a.m. on Monday, Nov. 23 to clarify the origination of the Kendeda Fund. 

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