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Freeport planner books energy tour of Denmark

Freeport’s town planner is leaving this week for what’s she’s calling a “one-week whirlwind tour” of Denmark’s renewable energy systems, including many discussions on how they got to where they are today.

Donna Larson, along with John Egan of Freeport, senior vice president of loans and investment for Coastal Enterprises Inc., will be among the 14 Maine business and municipal leaders, legislators, educators and representatives of non-governmental organizations to make the trip. During “Climate Tour: Denmark 2015,” they will study energy policy, renewable energy and energy efficiency.

Larson, who has been a leader in bringing solar energy to Freeport, leaves for her trip on Saturday night. Larson said she is anxious to see for herself what has made Denmark a leader in renewable energy, particularly in the form of wind farms.

“I’m very excited,” Larson said. “I hope to learn a lot about obstacles that they met along the way, and how they overcame them, to actually see the plants and be around them.”

Larson championed the Solarize Freeport project, in which the town would make bulk purchases of solar power, and pass the savings on to residents. She also is involved in Habitat for Humanity, which builds homes for low-income people.

Freeport also is moving forward on the town’s first solar farm, to be located at the Maine Idyll Motor Court on U.S, Route 1. Eight people, including the owner, will be able to purchase solar power from panels to be set up at the motel.

Sue Inches of North Yarmouth, a consultant in business and community development, is leading the trip. Inches, making note of Larson’s involvement, issued the invitation to Larson in April.

Larson said that on one particular day this year, Denmark produced 140 percent of its energy needs through wind power.

“On that particular day,” she said, “they were a net exporter of energy. They also have generation plants, and not nearly as many cars. I’m curious about the air quality. I’m curious about so many different things there.”

Larson hopes to bring home information that can broaden the town’s options for renewable energy.

“I think there’s always something that we can do better and more efficiently,” she said

Egan will join co-worker Carla Dickstein, vice president for research and policy at Coastal Enterprises, on the trip. Inches is a board member of Coastal Enterprises, which lends money for community development, and is concentrating on renewable energy. Egan is heavily involved in financing such projects.

“It was a very natural extension, and I was very fortunate that my company agreed to finance my trip,” Egan said. “We make loans in this particular sector.”

Egan said he is interested in presenting something to a “skeptical public” that renewable energy projects are “financially feasible in this country.”

He will focus on how the Danish government and businesses work together to ensure financial feasibility, and also study how small energy systems accomplish this.

“Renewable energy is very much going to be in our future, and we have to learn more about incorporating that into our daily community life,” Egan said.

In a press release, Inches said that $5 billion leave Maine every year to cover the cost of fossil fuels used for heat and transportation.

“Maine cities and towns are poised to reduce this cost and move forward to engage citizens and businesses in living more sustainably,” Inches said.

The town of Freeport will pay $3,400 toward Larson’s trip from its training fund. Town Manager Peter Joseph said that the town’s longstanding informal policy is that department directors are allowed to travel to one out-of-state conference or training per year, typically capped at $2,000 per year. Since the cost in this case is higher, the trip was allowed, but with the condition that Larson agreed to forego any additional training or conference expenses this fiscal year, he said. Larson agreed to contribute approximately $900 toward the cost of the training, $500 to come from a scholarship she secured and approximately $400 from a personal contribution, he said.