Commercial Currents: Addressing high energy costs

Stephenie MacLagan|Harry Podolsky
Posted 2016-01-11

In order to save money, Maine’s island and remote coastal businesses seek energy efficiency.

In this blog post, the Island Institute’s Economic Development staff is excited to highlight an impressive business that invested in energy use improvement resulting in significant savings. We hope that this story, as well as the list of helpful energy efficiency resources, will help inspire your business to save on energy costs. Don’t hesitate to share your feedback by posting a comment below or getting in touch with us. We would love to hear your thoughts and ideas for future posts.

This is the second blog post in a series that highlights innovative entrepreneurs and provides helpful resources to island and remote coastal businesses. To easily find our blog posts, go to the blog home page and select “economic development” from the drop down menu to filter blog posts by this topic, or go to

SPOTLIGHT: Lobster Wharf Saves Money with Solar

“Money saved is money earned,” says Potts Harbor Lobster owner Jim Merryman.

Merryman has been a lobsterman all his life and wants to see the industry remain viable into the future. Even before he purchased a lobster wharf in Harpswell in 2010, Merryman had been exploring options to limit his environmental impact and learn about solar.

“I have seen a lot of changes on the water and in [the lobster industry]. Solar power is one way to address the the impact we have on the environment. Compared to other renewable energy [technologies], solar was a smart way to go, given our wharf location,” Merryman said. In this case, helping the environment also served to save Merryman money and to make his company the first (and only) solar-powered wharf in Maine.

Interested in saving money and decreasing his carbon footprint, Merryman contacted ReVision Energy. “I wanted to do enough to have an impact—not just a panel or two,” said Merryman. The surface area available for solar panels was the limiting factor, but “we get 44% of our energy from the solar.” Jim Merryman of Potts HarborLobster

Potts Harbor Lobster General Manager Sue Nelson said, “ReVision helped with most of the calculations, including how much energy we were going to need and how soon the solar panels would pay for themselves. They helped us get through the technical piece of the USDA grant.”

The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Rural Energy for America Program provided funding that covered about a quarter of the cost of the project, Nelson said. “This was a relatively lengthy process,” but they found help from the local office in Lewiston. “They wanted us to get the grant as much as we did,” said Nelson.

When finding an energy partner, Merryman and Nelson recommend looking for a company that understands and respects your business goals. “They have to understand your needs as a business,” said Merryman. “Shop around to find someone you can work with, and someone who definitely knows more than you do.”

At the time, Efficiency Maine offered a 1% interest loan, which made the project feasible. The solar panel array  will last at least twenty-five years, and it will pay for itself in about half that time. “Everybody asks whether this actually saves any money, and it really does save us money,” Merryman said. “We cut our energy use [from the grid] by 44%.”

Merryman acknowledges that solar is a long-term investment, but that aligned with his business goals. He said, “I had to ask myself, ‘how long do I want to be in this business?’ I also did this to separate ourselves from other businesses,” said Merryman.

The unique nature of a solar-powered wharf has become a strong marketing tool. “We have gotten a lot of attention from this,” Nelson said. “People come down to the wharf asking about the solar, and then they share that with others, and they keep coming back—willing to take the extra drive—because we are different.”

Merryman’s long-term thinking that combined capital savings with a reduced environmental impact has clearly paid off both in his company’s monthly electric bill, and in bringing in new customers. His business has been positively covered by countless news outlets and extolled by nonprofits and funding organizations throughout New England as a commendable example of good corporate citizenship.

Potts Harbor Lobster sells lobsters that are locally sourced and responsibly caught by dedicated fishermen. It is Maine’s only solar powered commercial working waterfront wharf. Check out their photos and follow them on Facebook.

What We Do

In addition to the business support and community economic development work explained in the last blog post, the Island Institute’s Economic Development program staff is working closely with the Community Energy program staff to identify energy savings for businesses.

Are you an island business looking to save money? Have you considered energy efficiency measures? Our community energy staff works to reduce the cost of energy for businesses and municipalities in a variety of ways. Our energy efficiency programming covers weatherization, efficient appliances and heating, and renewable energy. Are you interested in LED lighting, or maybe installing a heat pump, to cut your fuel bill? We organize discount purchasing for LED’s and heat pumps for island businesses and homes. Storm window inserts are another high-impact product that businesses throughout Maine’s islands have installed, by participating in one of our on-island window workshops. We find that stores, hotels, and other businesses that jump in with energy efficiency work demonstrate their value to customers and help to build momentum in the community as a whole. For more information about these opportunities to save money, please reach out to Stephenie or Harry.


Calculate your utility costs and potential pay-back times of energy improvements:

  • This calculator estimates the typical energy use of selected appliances and provides the cost per day, per month, and per year.
  • These applicance-specific calculators estimate the energy cost and savings of new or replacement applicances.
  • Once you get the estimates from that calculator, you can enter the cost as “initial investment” and the savings as the “periodic cash flow” into this payback calculator to find out how long until you see a return on that investment.
  • Find a professional energy auditor near you to discover even more energy savings.

Check out additional information and resources for reducing energy costs: