June 25, 2018
Focus: Energy

Isle au Haut to build solar-powered smart energy microgrid

'Power lunch' with representatives from Isle au Haut, Dynamic Grid Systems and Introspective Systems.
Steven Strong, CEO, Solar Design Associates, and Jim Wilson, president, Isle au Haut Electric Power Co.
Isle au Haut will invest in a solar array to be installed on this site.

Isle au Haut is moving ahead with an ambitious plan to get its electricity from a solar-powered microgrid.

Home to parts of Acadia National Park, the midcoast island is accessible via mailboat from Stonington, about seven miles away. It gets its electricity from Stonington via a 35-year-old underwater cable that's showing signs of wear and tear. Rather than replace the cable for an estimated $1.7 million, the Isle au Haut Electric Power Co. is planning a switch to solar for its 140 customers. It had also looked at diesel and wind, but found that solar was the most economical.

"The goal is to provide power at an affordable price," says Jim Wilson, president of the Isle au Haut Electric Power Co., a member-owned for-profit cooperative. "Solar does that best."

He added that the new system will need to be operational by Dec. 31 so that investors can use eligible tax credits in 2019.

"If it is more valuable to them, we assume we can strike a better deal," he says.

The plan has been in the works for three years and got the nod from ratepayers two years ago. To better balance supply and demand, the idea is to build a grid that can capture and store surplus power via batteries and hot-water heat pumps.

Dynamic Grid Systems, a new joint venture between Portland's Introspective Systems and Dynamic Organics, of Putney, Vt., will design and build the grid.

"Renewables are playing a much larger role and contained communities such as islands and corporate office parks want more control over their energy costs," says Introspective Systems CEO Kay Aikin. "We have built sophisticated control signals into our microgrid design that adjust automatically to balance energy design, use the most cost-effective form of energy, and capture real-time pricing data to enable precise transactions for both users and generators."

The project's price and financing will depend on the vendors chosen to supply batteries and invertors, which Wilson hopes to decide soon.

"I've got a number of potential investors who are impatient with the process," he says. "It's a really interesting process, and there's been great support from the community."

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