SKOWHEGAN — The U.S. Department of Agriculture has awarded grant money to 10 Maine businesses, including two in Somerset County, so they can invest in renewable energy and efficiency projects for their operations.

A total of $183,339 will be provided to Maine businesses through USDA’s Rural Energy for America Program, U.S. Rep. Mike Michaud, D-2nd District, said in a release Wednesday.

North Country Rivers Inc. of Bingham will receive two grants under the program — $9,359 for energy efficiency and $20,000 for solar energy.

OKJ Construction, of Bigelow Hill in Skowhegan, was awarded $20,000 for the implementation of a biomass burner at the business.

“This announcement is very welcome news,” Michaud said. “Improving energy efficiency or converting to clean energy alternatives can help businesses save money and lead to additional job creation. We need more of these types of win-win investments in our country. They help boost economic activity in the short term and promote the sustainability of businesses for years to come.”

Jim Murton, who in 1983 started North Country Rivers, a whitewater rafting and lodging business on the Kennebec River, said he will use the grant money to make his Bingham property energy efficient for year-round activity. North Country also operates a base camp of operations on the Penobscot River in Millinocket.


He said he will invest in solar hot water, solar energy and a wood-pellet stove with a goal of eliminating use of home heating oil at the Bingham base.

Conservation is the key word, he said. Work is to begin next month.

“We’re insulating the entire envelope of the building — primarily in the attic with fiberglass and insulating all the door and windows,” he said. “Electrical and mechanical devices also will be addressed to make them more efficient.”

Murton, who lives in Vassalboro with his wife, Janice, said he plans to install of a photovoltaic array, a process of generating electrical power by converting solar radiation into direct current electricity. The solar cells will be mounted on the roof of the barn in three stages, with a goal of producing 50 percent of their electric consumption, Murton said.

The company employs about 100 people during the summer and 15 to 20 people in the winter.

Oakley Jones, owner of OKJ Construction, which first opened in Athens in 1990, said he is building a wood-gas, biomass electrical generation plant with the grant money at his Bigelow Hill Road main office in Skowhegan. He said the small-scale plant will provide electric heat to the building.

“I hope to have everything up and running by the end of October,” he said.

The company has three employees and continues to maintain a shop and maintenance garage in Athens.

Doug Harlow — 612-2367
[email protected]

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