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Saco Bay Marine to get Clean Energy Award from USDA Rural Development

The Take Charge using an electric outboard engine in Islesboro.
Maine Electric Boat
The Take Charge using an electric outboard engine in Islesboro.

Saco Bay Marine in Rumery's Boat Yard this week will receive a Clean Energy Award from USDA Rural Development for its transition to clean energy with the installation of a solar array.

Maine Electric Boat and Marine Solar Technologies, which are also based in the Biddeford boat yard, are planning to introduce electric engines to commercial fishing vessels.

Matthew Tarpey, CEO of Maine Electric Boat, says a 40-horsepower electric outboard with a 28-kilowatt battery pack is now on a prototype in Islesboro. He says commercial fishermen who have made the switch to electric engines notice cost savings of a different kind.

"I think businesses will see it has a positive impact on their bottom line. Interestingly enough, people think the biggest value is fuel savings. When I talk with commercial fishermen who have switched to electric, they say the number one value-add is the reduction of maintenance and the increase of days they have on the water," Tarpey said.

Maine Electric Boat and Flux Marine, with help from the Island Institute launched the prototype. Lia Morris of the Island Institute says that prototype is helping them to gather hard numbers on fuel savings and emissions reductions.

"I think it's important work and to be at the front edge of the conversation about how commercial entities across the coast of Maine can adopt this technology. There are pockets of people around the country having this conversation, but I would argue that we are trying to think about it at the systems level," she said.

Morris says showing the fishing community and harbor masters the real benefits of electric outboard motors is the first step toward gaining acceptance. She says stakeholders are now evaluating charging capacity along the coast and developing coursework to train technicians to install and repair electric outboard engines.

Tarpey says other challenges include increasing battery storage but not weight for outboards with more horsepower, and pushing for government incentives for buyers, though he says the cost of an electric outboard engine is similar to that of an internal combustion engine.