Klein receives $1.1­­25 million EPA grant for research in community-based sustainable energy

solar panels in field with sky and cloudsIn recent years, Maine has seen great interest in renewable energy infrastructure. With the state’s renewable portfolio standard set at 80% by 2030, installation of solar panels and wind turbines have been on the rise. However, it’s often up to other organizations to assist underserved communities to develop sustainable energy systems at the local level.

Dr. Sharon Klein, an associate professor of economics at the University of Maine and a Mitchell Center Faculty Fellow, is leading research on community-led sustainable energy in Maine. She was recently awarded a four-year, $1.125 million grant from the Environmental Protection Agency to study how statewide local energy action networks (LEANs) can support community-initiated, community-engaged, and community-owned renewable energy and energy efficiency in underserved communities, with a strong focus on Wabanaki tribes and rural lower income communities within Maine’s borders.

At the national level, Klein will collect data through literature analysis and interviews to understand how LEANs have been implemented in different states and their efficacy in serving underserved communities. The state-level study will take an immersive approach, using direct involvement with the Maine Community Resilience Partnership (CRP) and studying, from within, the process of building the CRP into a Maine LEAN. Operated by the Governor’s Office of Policy Innovation and the Future, the CRP program is assisting municipalities and tribal governments in reducing carbon emissions, transitioning to clean energy, and becoming more resilient to climate change effects. A network analysis of peer-to-peer learning, targeted interviews, and discussion groups with participants from communities enrolled in the CRP will also be undertaken.

The community-level study will focus on the five Wabanaki governments (Penobscot Nation; the Passamaquoddy Tribe at Indian Township and Pleasant Point, the Houlton Band of Maliseets, and the Mi’kmaq Nation), and five rural, low-income communities. Annual surveys of each community and interviews with a sub-sample of those surveyed will be undertaken to gain insight about community member awareness of and preferences for local renewable energy and energy efficiency action over time. Klein and her research team will assist these communities in implementing high-priority local energy actions as prioritized during their CRP enrollment community workshops. The award will also provide support for a new Wabanaki Sustainable Energy Coordinator to help the five Wabanaki governments and their communities advance their local energy priorities.

The University of Maine research team will include co-PI Dr. Caroline Noblet, also an associate professor of economics at the University of Maine and four students: two graduate, one undergraduate, and one Wabanaki Youth in Science (WaYS) high school student. This team will work closely with a Wabanaki Team and Municipal Team (comprised of people from those governments and/or communities) to co-develop and implement research activities.