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Cleveland native to study energy sustainability in Denmark

Bob Mentzinger Published: August 26, 2014 2:01 PM
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Peetz, a College of the Atlantic undergraduate, to embark on trip to Samso Energy Academy              

BAR HARBOR, MAINE — Saren Peetz, a fourth-year student at College of the Atlantic, is heading to Europe in September as part of a ground-breaking undergraduate project to study and implement sustainable energy systems.

Peetz, of Cleveland, Ohio, is enrolled in a unique class taught by COA faculty and led by COA students in a collaboration with the Rockland-based Island Institute under the auspices of a new philanthropic arm called The Fund for Maine Islands.

The Fund for Maine Islands creates a permanent partnership between College of the Atlantic and the Island Institute to address critical issues facing Maine’s island communities. COA students will work with island residents across four key areas — food and agriculture, education, energy, climate change — to understand challenges, develop strategies and implement real-world solutions.

“Creating synergy between two leading institutions on the coast of Maine will amplify our ability to effectively address some of the greatest challenges to the sustainability of the region’s year-round island communities,” said College President Darron Collins ’92. “College of the Atlantic is home to leading scholars in human ecology while the Island Institute brings more than 30 years of experience in community development and a rich network of community partners. This collaboration will facilitate the sharing of information, from world-class research to a grounded understanding of local assets and strategies, to develop and implement appropriate, viable solutions.”

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Beyond the coast of Maine, The Fund for Maine Islands also seeks to create a model for partnership between higher education, a development organization, and community members; strategies for developing community-based solutions to significant challenges; and evidence that effective solutions can be developed in resource-limited environments such as islands, with promise for communities elsewhere.

As the first Fund for Maine Islands project, College of the Atlantic faculty and students, five island residents, and Island Institute staff will engage in a yearlong energy leadership course. Participants will attend the Samsø Energy Academy in Denmark, develop locally-appropriate energy strategies for their home islands, and receive support in project financing and implementation to improve Maine’s energy future.

The Samsø course on “Islands: Energy, Economy and Community” is a rigorous, hands-on, labor intensive effort meant to bring students out of the comfort of the classroom and into the real world, where Maine island communities pay some of the highest energy rates in the United States and future energy options present unacceptable environmental degradation.

But local efforts have the potential to reduce these costs. And nowhere have local efforts to increase energy sustainability been more successful than at the Samsø Energy Academy in Denmark.       

During the student trip Sept. 22 through Oct. 4, to Samsø Energy Academy on Samsø Island, Denmark, Peetz will study firsthand how Samsø, a farming and tourist community, became carbon negative through efficiency upgrades, wind and solar power production, biomass heating and other elements of a renewable energy portfolio. This once-in-a-lifetime opportunity will help Peetz develop and implement projects that can help transform island energy futures.

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“Bringing education beyond the classroom and taking on real problems elevates the learning to a new level and merges thought and action,” said Jay Friedlander, the Sharpe-McNally Chair of Green and Socially Responsible Business and a co-instructor for the course. “Students are more engaged and have depth of understanding far beyond the textbook.”

The Samsø course is actually three interdisciplinary one-credit courses:       

—  “Islands: Energy, Economy and Community” focuses on the Samsø experience and the community development aspects to create initiatives in the renewable energy and finance sectors on Mount Desert Island and across the Gulf of Maine.

— “Energy and Technology” is a project-centered course with a focus on renewable energy and conservation efforts on campus and within the community. Students will examine energy issues from several perspectives, determine possible solutions and formulate a plan to collect data, secure funds and work with stakeholders. The goal of this course is to develop skills to orchestrate a successful renewable energy endeavor, taking into account time, cost, social, logistical and technological constraints.

— “Impact Investing” is focused on the emerging field of impact investing, which seeks to generate returns for society, the environment and financial investors. During the course students will learn how to create financial projections and evaluate the financial returns of enterprises. For their final project, students will have to structure an investment that generates returns financially, socially and/or environmentally.

Peetz and every participant will have the opportunity to develop an energy project that reflects the needs and priorities of their own communities. Projects may be pursued individually or as a group that includes other islanders and/or COA students. Sample project topics include: a community-owned solar farm, implementing island-wide energy efficiency, an island wide alternative transportation initiative, accessing alternative heating fuels and systems, and developing energy-focused eco-tourism.

The three-credit course focused on developing initiatives in the renewable energy and finance sectors on MDI and Maine Islands requires a minimum of 450 academically engaged hours. Students will be actively engaged learners beyond their attendance in classes, with attendance at individual meetings with the instructors, reading assignments, library and other research, individual and group investigations, interacting with the community and small-group work sessions. Also included are a midterm presentation, an end-of-term presentation and final demonstration project proposal and implementation report.         

In 2012, Peetz started a Farm to School program at a middle school in Bar Harbor. “I am excited to continue this kind of work in both the Samsø and Mount Desert Island communities this fall,” she said.

“Saren’s participation in this course will foster the skills necessary to approach real world problems in a systematic way that takes into account the social, financial, technical and political challenges intrinsic in most any community energy project,” said Anna Demeo, PhD, one of the two instructors for the course who led its design and implementation.

College of the Atlantic was founded in 1969 on the premise that education should go beyond understanding the world as it is, to enabling students to actively shape its future. A leader in experiential education and environmental stewardship, COA has pioneered a distinctive interdisciplinary approach to learning—human ecology—that develops the kinds of creative thinkers and doers needed by all sectors of society in addressing the compelling and growing needs of our world. For more, visit http://www.coa.edu.

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