Repowering Maine’s marine industry

Posted on Written by Reagan Haynes

28_maine_01Federal stimulus money will help keep boatyards busy with repowers this winter

Maine has found an interesting way to secure $1.2 million in federal stimulus dollars for its marine industry. The Maine Department of Environmental Protection was granted federal funds to help repower at least 40 commercial vessels during the next year, from lobster boats to ferries. And it is considering trying to find a way to extend the program, which will repower the boats with cleaner engines while keeping local boatyards busy in the process.

The new engines will be Tier II-compliant with Environmental Protection Agency standards, and the old engines will be destroyed, says Susan Swanton, executive director of the Maine Marine Trades Association. Local boatyards will do the work, providing work for mechanics as a sluggish season slows further for winter.

Swanton says it is fitting that Maine would find a “quirky and different” way to find federal funding for the boating industry. The grant will pick up half the cost of the new engine and half the cost of installing it. The balance will be paid by the owners. Of the 40 qualifying boats, 30 are lobster boats and four are fishing vessels, Swanton says. The other qualifying vessels include a schooner, an aquaculture boat, three island ferries, and the non-profit outreach vessel Sunbeam, which provides spiritual, health and youth programs to island communities.

Faced with volatile fuel prices and state regulations on lobstering – along with plummeting lobster prices – some lobstermen might have a difficult time coming up with their share of the money, Swanton says.

A technician from Billings Diesel and Marine in Stonington, Maine, told Swanton that repowering could save boats about 20 gallons of fuel a day, which should help provide an incentive for fishermen to come up with the money. Billings is set to do at least six of the repowers and had repowered one lobster boat just a week after the program was rolled out Sept. 24.

The extra work at Billings is “certainly going to help,” says service manager Greg Sanborn. “We have been quiet,” he says. “We’ve been surviving fine, but it’s been more quiet than normal, so anything that gives us more work is a good thing.”

It’s also good for the lobstermen because of dropping lobster prices and rising fuel prices, Sanborn says. “It gives them the opportunity to update to a compliant engine, which should improve their fuel economy and obviously has benefits to the environment, and only pay for half the engine and half the installation,” Sanborn says.

Lobsterman Jason Witham, of Thomaston, was the second boat owner to repower through the program. “What the DEP is doing is a huge help to fishermen like myself,” Witham says in a press release. “It makes it doable for us to get a new, cleaner, more efficient engine that will save us money every day we head out on the water.”

The Maine Marine Trades Association will administer the program, allocate the funds, and work with the commercial vessels to figure out the logistics of payment.

Adding stimulus to emission reduction

The federal stimulus package introduced in 2009 included the EPA’s Diesel Emission Reduction Act, or DERA, says Lynne Cayting, who is with the DEP’s air quality bureau and spearheaded the initiative. Typically, funds allocated under DERA are minimal and are competed for by all the states and the District of Columbia, she says. In 2008, Region 1 – which includes Connecticut, New Hampshire, Maine, Massachusetts, Rhode Island and Vermont – competed for $1.5 million.

But in 2009, $300 million was allocated nationwide, Cayting says. Of that, 30 percent went directly to the states to maintain their clean-diesel programs, and the remaining 70 percent was competed for by states.

“Because it’s stimulus money, we had to choose projects that help create and retain jobs,” Cayting says. “Everyone knows that lobstermen are facing tough times and … this will also help boatyards and engine dealers and distributors. I talked to one engine dealer who hadn’t sold an engine in two years.”

Boat owners can choose their engines as long as they meet EPA standards, meaning the cleanest technology available.

The amount Region 1 will compete for in 2010 is expected to be between $3 million and $4 million, so Cayting is considering reapplying for additional funds to continue the program next year.

Cayting has also spoken with North Carolina, Connecticut and New Hampshire officials to try to help those states implement a similar program. “None of them have pursued that because it’s a lot of work, and no one’s ever attempted this before,” Cayting says. “I’m hoping to get others involved. … But it’s hard to do. There’s not a lot of funding out there, and you have to follow DERA standards.”

Qualifying criteria

Determining which marine engines qualify for “early replacement” has been challenging for Cayting. “For marine engines, it’s not as black and white because some people keep their engines forever, so it’s kind of hard to figure out what’s considered early replacement,” Cayting says.

The DEP rated the 330 applicants’ engines by looking at the amount of fuel used in 2008 (and the prior two years if data was available), horsepower, the cost of replacing the engines, and the DEP’s cost to replace one ton of nitrous oxide and particulate matter.

“When I do that, these projects then fall into ranking, and dirtiest engines come to the top, or engines that are cleaner or that don’t burn enough fuel fall to the bottom,” Cayting says.

The Harvard School of Public Heath is also involved. About 20 samples of diesel exhaust were taken from vessels before the study; those numbers will be rechecked after the repowers.

This article originally appeared in the December 2009 issue.

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