Article

Island's energy is up

In the distance, the dark, low expanse of the island is punctuated by three white lines jutting through the horizon. Three giant wind turbines rise from the interior of the island, visible from miles away, above pines, above homes, above Vinalhaven's granite bones. And on Tuesday, the $14.5 million Fox Islands Wind project officially goes on line with a ribbon-cutting event ...The Lindgrens said the noise can be more intrusive then they were led to believe it would be. The noise is constant, said Britta Lindgren, like a jet passing overhead, "but it never passes." And there's an odd pressure in the air, indefinable, like low frequencies that have begun since the turbines started.

VINALHAVEN - In the distance, the dark, low expanse of the island is punctuated by three white lines jutting through the horizon.

Three giant wind turbines rise from the interior of the island, visible from miles away, above pines, above homes, above Vinalhaven's granite bones.

And on Tuesday, the $14.5 million Fox Islands Wind project officially goes on line with a ribbon-cutting event, marking the completion of Maine's first island wind project. It's also the largest community-owned wind project on East Coast.

Vinalhaven itself is a step back in time, a small, close community that looks out for its own. Stacks of lobster traps adorn the docks, and the cut granite that has been the island's industry for more than 100 years is everywhere.

The island has long generated its own power. Tidal waters flow under the Tidewater Motel, through the remains of a mill system that once used hydropower to run a granite cutting operation and a blacksmith's bellows with a network of belts. At one time, a coal-fueled power plant operated near where the ferry landing sits today.

But now the island is an outpost for renewable energy, and that's not lost on its residents.

"Personally, I... more [truncated due to possible copyright]  

VINALHAVEN - In the distance, the dark, low expanse of the island is punctuated by three white lines jutting through the horizon.

Three giant wind turbines rise from the interior of the island, visible from miles away, above pines, above homes, above Vinalhaven's granite bones.

And on Tuesday, the $14.5 million Fox Islands Wind project officially goes on line with a ribbon-cutting event, marking the completion of Maine's first island wind project. It's also the largest community-owned wind project on East Coast.

Vinalhaven itself is a step back in time, a small, close community that looks out for its own. Stacks of lobster traps adorn the docks, and the cut granite that has been the island's industry for more than 100 years is everywhere.

The island has long generated its own power. Tidal waters flow under the Tidewater Motel, through the remains of a mill system that once used hydropower to run a granite cutting operation and a blacksmith's bellows with a network of belts. At one time, a coal-fueled power plant operated near where the ferry landing sits today.

But now the island is an outpost for renewable energy, and that's not lost on its residents.

"Personally, I think they're fabulous, wonderful," said Elaine Crossman, owner of the New Era Gallery in downtown Vinalhaven. "I'm so impressed with us - I like that we're on the edge."

Sitting in the back seat of her cousin's SUV on the 8:45 a.m. ferry from Rockland, knitting a prayer shawl, Annette Philbrook said she was "tickled to death" by the wind project.

"I just think it lends a lot of energy to Vinalhaven," said Philbrook, who's lived on the island for 75 years. "We'll be one of the only islands that's got them."

Philbrook meant more than just electrical energy. Since Cianbro Corp. began building the 250-foot towers, the project has become a real attraction. People have been coming to the island just to see the turbines, said Philbrook.

Gov. John Baldacci, a strong proponent of wind power, said he wasn't surprised at the islanders' pride in the new project.

"It's almost like a Statue of Liberty - it represents our community's, and our state's, and our country's energy independence," said Baldacci, who plans to attend Tuesday's event.

Baldacci said Maine is looking to diversify its energy sources, looking at alternatives including solar, tidal, wind, biomass and others. The Fox Islands Wind project is a good template for what could be done in other communities, said Baldacci.

Vinalhaven is the largest of Maine's 15 year-round islands, and sits about a dozen miles off the mainland. Vinalhaven and the adjacent North Haven are connected to the mainland by a power cable that runs under Penobscot Bay. But energy loss from the cable and the high cost of distributing power mean that members of the Fox Islands Electric Cooperative pay roughly twice the state average for power, with rates approaching 30 cents per kilowatt hour.

Last year, members of the Fox Islands Electric Cooperative voted 382-5 in favor of the wind power plan in the hopes the turbines' on-island power would help stabilize or even lower power prices. North Haven and Vinalhaven have roughly 2,000 year-round residents between them. That number swells to more than 5,000 in the summer.

On an annual basis, the 1.5-megawatt turbines are expected to generate more than enough power for island demand. Excess power will be sold into the grid, a transaction that could trim rates by up to 20 percent.

BENEFIT GOES TO RATEPAYERS

The nonprofit Fox Islands Electric Cooperative formed a for-profit subsidiary, Fox Islands Wind LLC, to take advantage of federal tax credits aimed at renewable energy projects. Portland-based Diversified Communications invested $5 million in the project in return for tax credits, and the subsidiary also received a $9.5 million loan from the USDA for the project.

There is no profit being made by anyone, said George Baker, CEO of Fox Islands Wind. The benefit goes to ratepayers. Power prices are currently low in the Northeast, said Baker, but no one expects that to last. But because of the wind project, Fox Islands Co-op members will see stable rates for the 20-year life of the project, at least, he said.

"We're not going back up," he said.

In addition, the project is displacing 150 tons of carbon per week, said Baker.

Community members really embraced the project, said Baker, because they could directly connect the wind turbines to the lights going on in their own homes, and to how much they're paying for that power. It's a good model for community-owned wind projects, he said, and they're currently looking at three or four other island and coastal communities to see if something similar would work there.

Islanders are hopeful the project will at least stabilize their rates, and ideally drive them down.

"We have to look to the future, we have to do something" to lower the power bills, said Sue Chilles, bartender at The Sand Bar, a Vinalhaven pub. Sitting at the bar, Jason Mariner said he pays between $300 and $350 a month for electricity on the island. Most people in the community are supportive of the project in hopes that prices will go down, he said.

"It can't be bad," he said.

But not everyone on the island agrees.

The turbines rise out of the interior of the island, a few miles away from the more heavily populated areas. Up close on a recent day, a low mechanical sound could be heard from inside the tower, and a faint "whooshing" sound could be heard as the blades slowly turned.

"Depending on the wind direction, they can be very noisy," said Bill Haley, an Aroostook County native who's lived on Vinalhaven for 18 years. "The people who live around them are not happy."

The nearest tower is a couple of hundred yards from his house. He and his wife can hear the turbines inside on some days, even with the windows closed. It's sort of like hearing the Maine Turnpike or the Portland Jetport in the distance. While that may not sound like much to city dwellers or suburbanites, it's a different story for people who have been accustomed to hearing nothing.

"This used to be a nice quiet little island," said Haley. "(Now) it's quiet for everybody else "

The turbines began turning for the first time right around Halloween, said Cheryl Lindgren and her adult daughter Britta Lindgren, who live less than a mile from the turbines.

The Lindgren family moved to Vinalhaven in 2000, after vacationing on the island since 1973. They have extensive gardens and raise goats and ducks. The ducks have been off their feed since the turbines began spinning, said Britta Lindgren.

The Lindgrens said the noise can be more intrusive then they were led to believe it would be. The noise is constant, said Britta Lindgren, like a jet passing overhead, "but it never passes." And there's an odd pressure in the air, indefinable, like low frequencies that have begun since the turbines started.

Both Britta and Cheryl Lindgren said they supported the project, and are supportive of alternative power in general. They knew their environment would change, they said, but didn't think they'd be affected so much.

"We have to hope there's a solution," said Cheryl Lindgren.

LOOKING FOR SOLUTIONS

A community meeting was planned Sunday for neighbors and power cooperative officials to meet and discuss concerns. The Lindgrens said they'd be there. They also said they'd be at the Tuesday events celebrating the project.

Baker, the Fox Islands Wind CEO, said he's visited each house in the neighborhood.

"A small - but not insignificant - number of neighbors are concerned about the sound," said Baker, who estimated that 10 or 15 houses are in the area. "Different people have a very different reaction to it."

About half the households didn't have any problems, he said.

On Wednesday, Baker said, the company would be setting up microphones and numerous sensors to measure wind speed, direction and other environmental factors. They plan to work with the Maine Department of Environmental Protection and General Electric, the turbine manufacturer, to understand how the wind towers are affecting the neighborhood, and hopefully mitigate any problems.

This isn't a typical wind development where a private company can just slow down turbines to make less profit and reduce noise, said Baker. It's a straight cost pass-through - less power generated from the turbines means the rates will go up. More power equals lower rates.

"There are 2,000 households on Vinalhaven and North Haven," said Baker. "This is going to be an issue the community is going to have to grapple with and figure out how to make it be OK."

Others on the island were skeptical about the noise complaints, and about the potential electrical bill benefits of the project, as well.

"I was right up aside them - didn't hear them at all," said Jon Bickford Sr., who's been on the island for 75 years. He was talking to lobsterman Wayne Young, standing by a stack of lobster pots. Young noted that the old coal power plant that used to grace the waterfront made a lot of noise, as does a granite quarry near the wind turbine site.

Young wasn't necessarily convinced that the project would result in lower power prices.

"Supposedly - that's what they say," said Young. "Time will tell."

Young makes his living on the water, around the island. The new additions to the skyline don't bother him at all, he said. In fact, they can be helpful at times, he said, in terms of navigation.

"Running at night, the strobes give you something to shoot for," he said.


Source: http://pressherald.mainetod...

NOV 16 2009
http://www.windaction.org/posts/23121-island-s-energy-is-up
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