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June 25, 2018
Focus: Energy

Islands aim for energy independence

Photo / Courtesy Island Institute
Photo / Courtesy Island Institute
Islesboro residents and visitors from the Island Institute's Island Energy Conference stand in front of the solar array at Islesboro Central School.
Photo / Courtesy Island Institute
Islesboro Central School’s solar array powers the school greenhouse.
Photo / Courtesy the Island Institute
An electric vehicle charging station at Islesboro’s Pendleton Yacht Yard.
Photo / Courtesy Island Institute
The solar array on top of the Islesboro Town Office offsets over half of municipal electrical energy usage.

With high fuel costs and aging electrical infrastructure, many of Maine's 15 year-round islands are leveraging new technologies to ensure energy sustainable futures.

Islesboro, which received an Island Energy Innovation Award this year from Rockland's Island Institute, is a prime example.

Initiatives since 2012 include installation of a large photovoltaic array, offsetting over half of municipal electrical energy usage; LED lighting retrofits at Islesboro Central School and a solar project to power the school greenhouse; creation of an energy team by the select board; and weatherization and interior storm window inserts in dozens of homes. The team plans energy audits to drive future planning, including expansion of municipal solar and replacing street lighting with LEDs, says Toby Martin, chair of the Islesboro Energy Committee.

Collaboration within and between island communities is key, says Martin. Islesboro has a variety of energy-related groups that tackle efficiencies at the individual, community and school levels and network with state, national and international energy proponents and providers.

"You pick up ideas as you go along and, out of that, you work out something that works for your island," he says. "No island answers their energy questions the same way. You have Isle au Haut, with a plan to go independent with their own solar array. They've realized the cable that connects them with the mainland is going to fail. Other islands have generators of various kinds. Everyone does it differently and they're all working toward the same goal — cut costs, be as self-sufficient as possible, lower emissions."

Other islands are taking steps toward energy independence:

  • Monhegan Plantation Power District replaced its aging generator with four high-efficiency 65-kilowatt diesel microturbines; and a 12.65-kilowatt solar array. Two turbines are fitted with heat recovery modules to provide heat and dehumidification to other buildings. Most homes were weatherized.
  • The high cost of submarine cable replacement prompted the Isle au Haut Electric Power Co. to purchase 204 kW of solar modules, with planned use of hot water heat pumps for space heating. [See related story.]
  • Since 2009, the Fox Islands Electric Cooperative has operated three 1.5 megawatt wind turbines, covering all electrical use.
  • The Swan's Island Electric Cooperative merger with Emera in 2017 halved electric bills.

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