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On November 6, 2015, the Island Institute of Rockland, Maine held its annual Island Energy Conference in South Portland, Maine. Green Energy Maine was there and brings you this introductory report, the first of two from the conference.
Suzanne MacDonald, Energy Director of the Island Institute, began the day by introducing Rob Snyder, the Island Institute’s President, for some opening remarks.
Maine islands are developing energy solutions that many people on the mainland find are transferrable to their situations, particularly in the more remote, rural areas. What drives the discussion about energy efficiency and alternatives on islands is the concern about being able to afford to stay on the island. The Island Institute is looking for and helping to implement balanced approaches that will serve the needs of island residents.
The greatest impact of the energy work being done by the Island Institute over the past 8 years is in the growing awareness that the problems faced are not so much technological ones, but rather more social in nature. These problems can be solved by building stronger communities that engage in dialogs to find solutions. It takes hard work to be able to own your energy future; taking ownership of the future of energy systems has empowered island residents. This transformation will create a sustainable legacy for the islands for future generations to enjoy.
Snyder recognized a representative from US Dept of Energy Wind Exchange Program, Amber Pasquill, who he said helps to make the work of the Island Institute possible. They help communities to weigh the benefits and costs of wind energy and make decisions based on facts. Renewable energy projects in remote villages in Alaska have also worked with the Island Institute to inform their work in Maine.
ISLAND ENERGY INNOVATION AWARD
The Island Institute presents this award each year to celebrate successes on Maine islands. Snyder announced that this year’s award was won by the Block Island Wind Farm: the nation’s first offshore wind farm. Bill Penn of BIWF has worked tirelessly with regulators and the developer, Deepwater Wind, to bring a wind farm to life off Block Island, RI. In accepting the award, Bill Penn said that by the end of 2016, Block Island will get 100% of its energy from wind power.
(L-R: Amber Passmore of US-DOE, Suzanne MacDonald, Bill Penn, and Rob Snyder.)
THE STATE OF NEW ENGLAND’S ISLANDS
In the six years since the inaugural Island Energy Conference was held, island communities around New England have made great strides in implementing energy projects that are lowering energy costs and building stronger, more sustainable, local energy systems. With new technologies, new strategies and a network of emerging leaders, the needle is moving in the right direction. A panel of island energy experts reflected on the state of energy action in New England’s offshore communities, highlighting past accomplishments, present trends and what’s on the horizon for the future.
Suzanne MacDonald moderated the panel discussion between (L-R):
Paul Elias of the Naushon Trust, Elizabeth Islands (off Woods Hole, MA);
Marian Chioffi from Mohegan Plantation Power District;
Sam Saltonstall from the Peak’s Energy Action Team;
Misty Conrad of the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) in Golden Colorado and
Lawrence Mott of Sgurr Energy, a Scottish company that does global technical consultation.
A point to keep in mind is that because of high electricity costs on islands, solar or other renewable energy projects have a faster payback than they would on the mainland and are therefore more economically feasible today.
Q: What are some trends you are seeing and what are some of the biggest challenges facing islanders?
Mott: There are many trends; some include increasing emission controls on diesel generators, rising insurance costs and high road and infrastructure costs.
Saltonstall: Low-income islanders have constant challenges. Government can help or hinder progress for them.
Q: Energy is an embedded part of the community. How do energy challenges relate to other challenges on the islands?
Chioffi: The electricity impacts how we get water and also impacts all of the businesses. In July, one inn on Monhegan pays over $2,500 just for power. Solving energy issues makes everything else possible
Conrad: Energy costs can be disabling. Businesses have to compete with tourists for resources. Waste is also an issue impacted by electricity
Q: What good news is there?
Conrad: The absence of policy is a danger; it must precede putting steel in the ground. Community policies must be examined and adapted; this is a challenge.
Q: What accomplishments have been made in the last few years?
Mott: The large energy sector has taken a much greater interest in microgrids and smaller energy systems. In Africa, there is a large push to develop isolated grids. Closer to home, there is greater sophistication and awareness among community leaders than in the past.
Q: What is moving the needle in your work?
Saltonstall: I was able to go on the tour of Denmark this year and have been able to bring back a wealth of information on energy efficiency.
Q: What influences or trends have spread as a result of pilot systems?
Elias: On Nashaun Island, electric loads dropped 40% through efficiency measures and changing capacitors. This saved enough money to fund the solar power system. Any power system will be oversized if efficiency is not taken care of first.
Q. How has the work affected other islands?
Chioffi: On Mohegan, people changed over their lightbulbs with the help of the Island Institute and it had a great impact on lowering power bills. Next, they plan to do appliance replacements. They have kept the community involved and asked for their input as they go along. They are putting in 4 microturbine diesel generators in the coming year. There is also a dehumidification project at the museum, being made possible by savings gained through efficiency measures.
Q: NREL has published energy plans for some Pacific Islands, which have been read by Maine islanders. What can we learn from these?
Conrad: All of the people have to be brought to the table so that consensus drives decisions. Assessments were done first to identify the technical opportunities, then strategic plans were written. Then each strategy was sliced off and given to people to act upon and report back on. This process brought rapid change.
Q What is in the future for Maine’s islands?
Mott: There are new systems being deployed and these will be evaluated. Private investments will be made through commercial financial institutions once the viability of these investments has been proven. We will also be seeing microgrids, controls and other technologies deployed. Emera has made an investment in solar power plants in both Barbados and in the Bahamas. These were done from their Halifax headquarters. Conventional energy is becoming too messy and risky for utilities.
Chioffi: Everyone is sharing information and learning from what others have done. This makes it easier for us all; we are communicating much better than we did just 5 years ago.
Q: What are the resources and policies you need to get the job done?
Saltonstall: Climate change is a challenge we face along with the rest of the world. Archaic policies of denial of climate change have held back progress to date.
Elias: A free barge would be very helpful. There are significant regulatory obstacles we have faced, and the upside is that component prices have come down while we have been waiting for permits.
Q: On Matinicus, we find that “The Perfect” is the enemy of “The Good”. This can sometimes paralyze progress.
Saltonstall: Good observation. For the school on Peaks, we had to choose a more efficient oil boiler instead of solar powered heat pumps, as an example. This is still a victory.
Elias: People are sometimes very zealous about the type of system they want; however simplicity is a key virtue on islands, rather than complex technologies.
Q: What would be the first steps for a community relying on fossil fuels to ease them into solar arrays?
Conrad: Gaining energy literacy. There are a lot of terms to learn, such as Tier I-V. Another thing is learning to understand load data. People have to be all talking in the same language.
Q: Have you worked with remote Maine communities on these political issues?
MacDonald: The Island Institute recognizes the commonalities that exist between islands and remote mainland communities. As such, it is working with Efficiency Maine and other resources to move all communities forward helpful energy policies.
Q: [From John Egan of CEI]: CEI is working to expand financing opportunities. Islands are like Davids with a slingshot facing Goliath-utilities. Why are Emera and Iberdrola not pushing for microgrids and other small solutions?
Mott: It is easier for them still. Rates on Barbados are 26 cents/kWh and they have a very large load. The opportunities there are large. Island communities in Maine are small by comparison.
Conrad: There is a lot more aid going to the Carribbean and Pacific Islands; partly via donor agencies.
A designer/builder of solar microgrids interjected here that the investment tax credit, which is worth about 30% of a system’s value, can be leveraged to finance projects and is due to expire at the end of 2016. He advised the group not to let this money fall off the table.
Q: Why is what is happening here in some of the nation’s smallest communities relevant?
Elias: We have been running microgrids for generations and this is showing the way to mainlanders.
Chioffi: We hope that what we are doing can help others get to where we are.
Conrad: Islands are the perfect laboratory. As climate change progresses, al eyes will be on islands.
Mott: Islands represent the working landscape. Remote communities can be kept alive through continuing this work.
MacDonald: You have to talk to your neighbors in order to solve community problems; do not just rely on the internet.
To read more in-depth reports from keynotes and breakout sessions at the Island Energy Conference see Part II by Tom Redstone.
Image credit: all photos by Kay Mann.