By Meg Haskell
BANGOR, Maine — The weather was warm and muggy Wednesday and Maine’s cold winter seemed far away. But at the 2009 Maine Winter Expo inside the Spectacular Event Center, the focus was on saving energy, money and the planet with a variety of technologies both familiar and innovative.
Attendance was brisk at the event, which was sponsored by Bangor Hydro-Electric Co.
Vendors filled two large rooms at the center, one featuring short-term ideas for conserving energy and saving money and the other featuring longer-term “energy solutions for tomorrow.”
Many big-ticket investments in energy-saving technology now qualify for federal tax credits.
“When we first started out two years ago, no one knew what we were talking about,” said Jared True of Elco Electric in Bangor, who was there to promote his company’s geothermal heat pumps. “Now we’re dealing with some very well informed consumers.”
The geothermal systems concentrate heat from the earth into water flowing through coils of tubing buried in the ground and use the hot water to heat the interior spaces of homes and businesses.
True said using geothermal technology to heat a small home in Bangor would save an estimated $1,350 each year over the cost of heating with oil.
“It is less expensive to move heat than it is to generate it,” he said. Although purchasing and installing a home heating system can cost about $30,000, True said it would qualify the homeowner for a $9,000 federal tax credit.
Heat pump technology was also at work in The Geyser, a box the size of a dorm refrigerator that heats domestic hot water for storage in a conventional tank. Robert Montenegro of North Road Technology in Brewer, where the water heaters are manufactured, said a typical family of four in the Bangor area would save about $642 a year using The Geyser instead of a propane water heater, and another $200 a year by decreasing the cost of dehumidification. The heater costs about $1,400 to purchase and qualifies for a 30 percent federal tax credit.
At one table staffed by Bangor Hydro, energy manager David Keep said the company has fielded many questions recently from commercial users about cutting electricity consumption.
“We went into one major mill in the area and found $2 million in savings with a one-year payback,” he said.
Other long-term energy solutions on display included tidal power generators and green architectural services.
In the short-term-fix category, local agencies offered information on home energy audits and low-interest loans and grants to help homeowners pay for weatherization and other energy-conserving measures. The Pine Tree Chapter of the American Red Cross provided suggestions for assembling winter weather disaster kits and preventing fires related to improperly installed heating devices.
Mainers roamed back and forth between the two rooms, gathering freebies and printed information. Pam Person of Orland collected a bulging bag full of handouts. Person said she has been “active in energy issues” for many years, starting with her opposition to a coal-fired power plant that was proposed in Bucksport.
Now, she said, she remains active with a number of groups, including her church, the Unitarian Universalist Church of Ellsworth.
“We’re trying to help our members save energy,” she said. “My theory is let’s increase renewable [energy], but let’s also increase efficiency.”