Maine cities, towns hope to pump up demand for air-sourced heat

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SOUTH PORTLAND — Residents of South Portland and Scarborough will get a chance to save some green while making the environment greener.

The Casco Bay Heat Pump Challenge is billed as an initiative to help residents save energy costs, improve the comfort of their homes, and reduce their carbon footprints by installing cold-climate heat pumps.

Heat pumps are powered by electricity, use air from the outside to heat homes in the winter and provide air conditioning in the summer.

The event will be held from 10 a.m.-1 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 23, at the South Portland Community Center, 21 Nelson Road.

Southern Maine communities are challenging each other to see which can have the most heat pumps installed.

Scarborough will have a challenge from 10 a.m.-1 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 21, at the Scarborough Public Library, 48 Gorham Road. Falmouth will be holding an event from 10 a.m.-2 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 14, at the Mason-Motz Activity Center. Portland held one challenge in June and may schedule another, according to city staff.

At the events, residents can learn more about the pumps – how they can save on energy bills and also get special event-only discounts – and learn from other residents about their experiences with the units. 

Julie Rosenbach, South Portland’s sustainability director, said the challenge is a way to help advance renewable thermal energy. Rosenbach said Mainers are mostly using oil, natural gas, and biomass, such as wood and wood pellets.

She said there is an especially high dependency on oil, although some people make the switch to natural gas, which is cheaper and “slightly cleaner.” Rosenbach called natural gas a “slightly less-bad fuel.”

She said one solution to cleaner energy is using hot-water heat pumps and air-sourced heat pumps, which, Rosenbach said, are extremely efficient and cost- effective to implement. Cold-climate air-sourced heat pumps can also provide highly efficient air conditioning, according to Rosenbach.

She said there could be some days when temperates drop below minus-10 or minus-20 degrees when they don’t heat as well, but the pumps will still do the job.

“We are looking at kick-starting these markets and helping community members transition to those,” Rosenbach said.

She said the pumps would also work as a good supplemental heating source for someone who has several heating zones, which may allow residents to shut down a zone. It would also work well in homes with one zone, where some rooms might be really cold and residents end up overheating their entire home just to get one of the rooms warmer.

South Portland is working in conjunction with Portland, the Greater Portland Council of Governments and Efficiency Maine to put on the event.

The group, after seeking bids from heat-pump installers, have picked five vendors to participate that have demonstrated good practices and competitive pricing: Dyer Electric, Goggin Energy, Pine State Services, ReVision Energy, and ReVision Heat. Discount pricing will be offered at the event to those who sign up for a free site visit. Also, if enough people participate, the price will be lowered due to bulk pricing.

Efficiency Maine will be on hand to let residents know about rebates and financing options that are available to help reduce energy bills.

Speakers are scheduled from between 10:30 and 11:30 a.m. to talk about the pumps and answer questions. Included are customers who made the switch and will talk about their perceptions, challenges and the realities of using the units.  

Rosenbach said the city is trying to get support from homeowners and businesses to adopt heat pumps because they increase comfort, reduce greenhouse gas emissions and result in lower heating costs. 

The city is also in the process of developing a community climate action plan to help the reduce emissions, and the challenge falls in line with the plan, she said.

Melanie Sochan can be reached at 781-3661 ext.106 or msochan@theforecaster.net. Follow her on Twitter @melaniesochan.

Julie Rosenbach, South Portland’s sustainability director, in her office below the air handler of a cold-climate air-source heat pump.

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