Portland students promote wind, solar energy

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PORTLAND — The state and federal government should do more to promote the use of alternative energy by the general public, according to proposals by a group of high school students.

Juniors from Casco Bay High School last week presented proposals to address the nation’s energy and environmental issues during a two-day “In the Black” symposium at Portland Public Library in Monument Square.

Students were critiqued by panels of experts from organizations such as the Maine Department of Environmental Protection, Efficiency Maine, Maine Audubon Society and the Sierra Club.

The proposals, developed after months of research, are part of students’ cross-disciplinary learning expedition about current environmental challenges, particularly the nation’s dependence on fossil fuels.

Stephanie Doane, a humanities and social studies teacher, said students learn to think like scientists, policymakers and activists. She said school officials try to connect students with policymakers and show them that they can create positive change in the world.

Doane said the presentations, which also included a research paper, is the first of a year-long, three-part curriculum. During the second part, Junior Journey, students will travel to Almost Heaven, W. Va., to document untold stories of local people impacted by economic adversity and the exploitation of natural resources.

While in West Virginia in April, students also will volunteer with Habitat for Humanity. The junior class has so far raised $20,000 of the $40,000 needed to ensure each student can attend.

During the final expedition, “Appalachia Unplugged,” students will documents stories that show the human impact of economic adversity in West Virginia. Students will share their multimedia oral histories in Portland, West Virginia and via the Internet. The project also will include regional literature, photography and music.

Soren Nielsen, 17, said he chose to focus his proposal on geothermal energy because many people seem to think more about wind or solar power. He proposed that state government should provide tax incentives to make installing geothermal heat in homes affordable.

Similarly, 19-year-old Hellen Otto proposed the state do a better job of promoting the use of wind power to reduce the effect of greenhouse gases on the environment. Wind power is the fastest growing course of renewable energy and there are many possibilities to utilize it in Maine, she said.

“Putting local energy here in Maine can help us gain control of our economy,” Otto said, noting 250 wind power-related jobs were created in Maine.

Sophie McGovern, 16, said her proposal hit close to home. It centered on promoting the use of green technology in homes across the state, particularly through low-interest government loans and incentives for homeowners.

McGovern said the research she did about loans and incentive programs will be useful for her family because her mother is the landlord of an apartment building.

“It can be as simple as caulking your windows and weatherizing your house,” she said.

Amino Sheikh, 17, said she was glad to finish her presentation on the promotion of offshore wind power and is now excited for the West Virginia trip.

“I’m looking forward to seeing where coal comes from and learning how miners live,” she said.

Sheikh said she and her classmates also are excited to volunteer with Habitat for Humanity.

“I think it’s a great thing to do to give back to the community,” she said. “It will be great.”

Gillian Graham can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 125 or ggraham@theforecaster.net. Follow her on Twitter: @grahamgillian.

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Casco Bay High School junior Hellen Otto answers questions about her proposal to promote wind power with tax incentives during the “In the Black” symposium Friday, Feb. 9, at the Portland Public Library in Monument Square. Students presented proposals to panels of experts after spending several months researching and developing proposals for energy and environmental issues.

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