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June 30, 2009

Community celebrates Fox Islands wind power groundbreaking

by David A. Tyler

It has been an extraordinary year for the Fox Islands wind project.

On July 28 2008, the Fox Islands Electric Cooperative approved the project by a vote of 383 to 5 on July 28.

Just 11 months later, over 120 islanders, officials and project workers gathered on June 29 to celebrate the project’s official groundbreaking.

“When we began to collaborate a year ago, the concept of this project taking place in 2009 was very remote,” said Cianbro Chairman Peter Vigue, at the ceremony.

Yet clearing of the 75-acre site on the north side of Vinalhaven began June 10 by Maine-based Cianbro, the project’s general contractor. This summer, three, 1.5 megawatt General Electric wind turbines capable of generating all the electricity needed by Vinalhaven and North Haven will be built. The turbines are expected to arrive in August. Vigue said that electricity would be generated by Thanksgiving.

The turbines are expected to stabilize power prices on the two islands. Right now residents pay 25 cents per kilowatt-hour, more double the national average. Diversified Communications of Portland provided $4.8 million in initial financing for the $14.3 million project.

“This is a celebration of people who were committed to working together to get something done that is very important for their islands, but more than that, to set a standard for the neighborhood, the area and the state of Maine,” Vigue said.

Those who spoke talked about the local and global implications of the Fox Islands wind project. Congresswoman Chellie Pingree (D-North Haven) talked about meeting with Steven Chu, secretary of the U.S. Department of Energy, a month ago. “I was very proud to tell Energy Secretary Chu the story of what happened here,” Pingree said. When you talk about offshore wind, many think residents are opposed to it. “And they are thinking about some other state that starts with M,” referring to strong opposition to a wind project offshore of Cape Cod in Massachusetts. “And I say, ‘Not in my state.’ And I tell them the story of how hard this community worked, and how people went everywhere to find the money to make sure they could do this project.” Pingree talked about all the meetings needed and how people in the community decided, “We can do something about this, we can produce our own power, we can be energy self-sufficient.”

Philip Conkling, president of the Island Institute, said, “I believe the Fox Islands wind project will be a turning point in Maine island history, and perhaps in the history of Maine itself,” he said. “If we can muster the political and financial resources to build his project, we can build not just more islands wind projects, but also build ocean wind projects, as well, and in the process change the way we heat our homes, run our vehicles, and save the state.” The Island Institute assisted in the permitting process and helped with community involvement.

Elliot Brown, president of the board of the Fox Islands Electric Cooperative, injected some humor into the ceremony. “For years I have heard of bags of wind,” he said. “Old windbags. Breaking wind. Everybody knows about that. But today, we’re going to harness all those powers together: bags of wind, breaking wind and the wind from up above and generate some electricity for you.” On a serious note Brown talked about bringing down electric rates with this wind power project. “And I think, in the end, you will be very pleased with the result.”

Many island residents came to the ceremony, including lobsterman Sonny Warren, 79, of Vinalhaven. “I think it will be a wonderful thing for the island,” Warren said, about the project. “It will cut the price of electricity and in the future we won’t have to depend on mainland electricity since we’ll have our own here.”

The Cianbro chairman praised the leadership of George Baker, CEO of Fox Islands Wind LLC, which is overseeing the project for the Fox Islands Electric Cooperative. “There is no way this project was going to die and be delayed another year, thanks to his leadership and the team that works with him on these islands every day,” Vigue said.

At the start of the ceremony, Baker thanked everyone in the cooperative; the Island Institute, particularly President Philip Conkling and Alternative Energy Fellow Katie Chapman; the Vinalhaven Planning Board, especially Jeff Aronson and Charlotte Goodhue; Vinalhaven Town Manager Marjorie Stratton and everyone in the town office; the Vinalhaven Fire Department and Chief Marc Candage; and the Vinalhaven Land Trust, which owns land on the western side of the project.

Baker thanked the owners of the site, Bill Alcorn and Del Webster, for having the vision to purchase the site for wind power, and leasing at “substantially below market rates” in order to make the project work. Baker also thanked Vinalhaven resident Addison Ames, an electric co-op board member, for being “an advisor and consultant and a confidante and a booster and a visionary” for the project.

Other companies working on the project include EOS Ventures LLC, which helped procure the turbines and is the owner’s engineer; Sebago Technics Inc., working on permitting and civil engineering; and RLC Engineering, which is doing electrical design work.

David A. Tyler is the editor of the Working Waterfront.


click to enlargeCongresswoman Chellie Pingree speaks at the groundbreaking ceremony.
Congresswoman Chellie Pingree speaks at the groundbreaking ceremony. David A. Tyler

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