Proposed: National Center for Sustainable Technologies

by Heather Rae

The Brunswick Naval Air Station on the midcoast of Maine is on the Pentagon’s list: the base realignment and closure process, a recurring cost-cutting procedure, also known by the acronym BRAC, has targeted the Brunswick station for closure in 2011.

In April 2005, The Times Record ran an editorial by Walt Rosen, a retiree from the Commission on Life Sciences of the National Academy of Sciences. Rosen proposed turning the base into a national center for sustainable technologies, including residential and industrial uses.

Walt Rosen died last year. His idea is worth repeating, as developers and government begin the wrangle over what to do with the Brunswick land. The Brunswick Sustainability Group is gathering ideas from around the globe to put some fire under Rosen’s proposal, from Freiburg-Vauban in Germany to Dongtan in China. The Sustainability Group and Walt Rosen’s proposal should be at the table with developers and government.

This is a plan for use of a portion of the 3,000-acre site if and when the Brunswick Naval Air Station is decommissioned. Existing structures on the site are mostly hangars and housing units, easily adaptable to the proposed project.

This proposal would create a National Center for Sustainable Technologies that will promote research, education, training and demonstration of what have been termed “sustainable” or “appropriate” technologies — that is, procedures and practices that utilize alternatives to fossil fuels and minimize or eliminate the production of heat-trapping combustion products that can cause global climate change, and some of which are toxic to humans and other organisms. These alternatives utilize renewable energy sources such as solar radiation, biomass, wind and tides.

The heart of the project, and of the center, will be a planned residential community and industrial park showcasing state-of-the-art sustainable technologies.

Conversion from fossil fuels (coal, oil, natural gas) to renewable alternatives would free our society from dependence on these finite energy sources and from the toxic byproducts of their use. Because the supply of these alternative energy sources is essentially unlimited, and because their use is nonpolluting, they are termed “sustainable,” a term that distinguishes them from energy sources such as petroleum, of which the earth has limited stores, and the extraction and use of which creates pollution and causes global warming.

Rising fuel costs, global warming (caused by increasing atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide and other so-called greenhouse gasses), and concerns about the security of overseas sources of petroleum have combined to reawaken recognition of the desirability of moving to renewable alternatives to fossil fuels.

It is proposed to make part of the BNAS site a national center for such efforts. Properly implemented, such a center will provide jobs, training and revenue to replace what will be lost to the state and the community by the base closing. Demonstration projects and other training opportunities will draw people from throughout the country and beyond for education and training in the development and use of renewable and sustainable technologies. Just as agriculture colleges and the National Institutes of Health play host to graduate students and senior investigators, so will the proposed Sustainability Institute.

A model sustainable community
Successful large-scale planned communities are those of James Rouse in Columbia, Md., and Reston, Va. Another is the Disney Corp.’s Celebration, Fla. Design of these communities focused on motor traffic and pedestrian flow and on distribution of residential and commercial areas and civic amenities. Energy generation, consumption, conservation and recovery was left to local practice.

At the heart of this proposed development will be a planned residential community in which the objective in design and function will be maximization of the use of renewable energy — largely solar energy captured on site. Systems for the recovery of energy from biomass will be deployed wherever and whenever feasible. Homes — and where possible public facilities and businesses — will be furnished with biomass recovery systems (such as dry composting toilets), solar space and water heating, fuel cell technologies and photvoltaics.

Manufacturers of the required hardware will be given incentives for locating in a community industrial park, thereby providing employment and training opportunities for residents of the community.

Much planning will be required to establish policies concerning management of the community and eligibility for admission to residence there. Among the strategies and policies to be considered are low-interest or interest-free mortgages, leases, co-op governance, individual or community gardens, preferential placement in on-site jobs and internships.

Potential development and demonstration programs: glass-house food production; heating with biogas generated on-site from municipal sludge and cultivated biiomass; a wind farm (if wind velocities are sufficient to generate the electricity required by a small community); sustainable agriculture, aquaculture and forestry; ecological restoration; photovoltaic hardware production and research; hydrogen fuel cell research and demonstration; and electricity generation from tidal flow.

Our community is richly endowed with people and programs that can provide the relevant expertise. These include the Bowdoin College Environmental Studies Program; USM’s Muskie Institute; the Chewonki Institute’s biodiesel and hydrogen research and development programs; Morris Farm; Wolf’s Neck Farm; the Maine Center for Economic Policy; the Maine State Planning Office and its director of Energy Independence.

The SPO’s “2003 Directory of State Energy Programs and Reources” reveals a wealth of relevant businesses and programs already active in Maine, providing a highly supportive environment for this project.

The National Center for Appropriate Technology has a Web site that provides a wealth of information on relevant programs, demonstrations and literature.

At least a year of intensive research and planning will be required for the preparation of detailed proposals for the funding and implementation of this concept. A planning grant will be essential for proposal preparation.

A 50-acre to 100-acre Peace Park in, or bordering the residential area, can include a solar-heated swimming pool and community center, bike paths, playing fields and demonstration organic gardens. Indeed, it was Hersch Sternlieb’s idea for a Peace Park on the BNAS site that triggered this proposal.

Heather Rae, a contributor to, manages a ‘whole house’ home performance program in Maine. In 2006, she built a biobus and drove it from Colorado to Maine. In 2007, she begins renovation of an 1880 farmhouse using building science and green building principles.