PORTLAND — After two years of work, the Greater Portland Council of Governments and Cumberland County released the county’s first ever climate and energy plan last week.
GPCOG began an emissions inventory in 2007 to identify the county’s major problems. The study looked at how much is being spent on energy, energy consumption and greenhouse gas emissions.
According to Jennifer Puser, transit and energy planner for GPCOG and director of the project, the inventory showed that Cumberland County as a region spent $1.36 billion on energy in 2007. Transportation was the most significant cost, at $631 million and 45 percent of all energy consumption in the county.
Home heating costs were the next highest cost for county residents, at $131 million.
“The data really gets at the heart of our energy problems in Cumberland County and across Maine: transportation and home heating,” Puser said in a press release. “It’s a huge economic drain. This plan provides numerous recommended actions aimed at solving these problems across all sectors.”
After the energy inventory was completed, GPCOG put together 30 focus groups with county citizens and business owners to get ideas about how to counteract the problems identified in the study. Four working groups whittled down their responses and identified ways to meet the goals.
Some of the recommendations include reducing single-occupancy car trips, establishing a transportation management association, pedestrian-oriented transit, alternative fossil fuels for home heating, improving energy efficiency in county buildings, capturing waste heat from industrial processes, and supporting local, community-owned renewable energy generation.
Puser said that while the county initiated this study, it cannot be the only one responsible for implementing changes; the responsibility falls on all residents and business owners to help make the improvements.
“This is not a plan that the county should be implementing on its own,” she said. “There is room in there for everyone, homeowners, parents, schools, municipalities, everyone. It’s an across-the-board, shared responsibility about what we all need to be doing as a county and region to combat these problems.”
Creating the plan is just the beginning of changes to come, Puser said, and the place to start making changes is in transportation, because that is the biggest expense for the county. She added that spending and consumption numbers need to be further examined before a plan for who can do what is put into place.
“Now that we have this plan, we don’t want it to sit on the shelf,” she said. “We need shared action, we need shared responsibility and we need to start taking action on these things.”