The Swan’s Island Electric Cooperative (SIEC) is dedicated to the protection and preservation of the environment. Although we are a long way from breaking ground on any wind turbine project, the SIEC is already investigating environmental impact assessments, primarily by observing field studies being conducted on Vinalhaven. Thorough environmental impact assessments will be conducted to ensure that a wind turbine project on Swan’s Island will not damage the unique and diverse populations of native wildlife and plant species.
Birds, Bats and Plants
The SIEC plans to model environmental impact assessments after those being conducted for the Vinalhaven wind turbine project. Richard Podolsky, Ph.D., and Norman Famous, M.S., were commissioned by the Fox Islands Electric Cooperative in collaboration with the Island Institute to conduct a thorough year-long field study. The study addressed concerns raised by residents, the Audubon Society, and state regulatory agencies including the Maine Department of Environmental Protection (MDEP).
The field study typically evaluates bird populations, state and federal-listed endangered and threatened species, state-listed Species of Special Concern, significant wildlife habitat including vernal pools, rare natural plant communities, and delineating wetlands.
A six month study is necessary to adequately assess raptor and breeding bird populations as well as bird species migrating in the spring and fall. For plants, a six month study allows investigators to assess plants throughout the growing season. During this time, other wildlife species will be observed on the proposed site to evaluate the importance of the site as habitat.
Many people find wind turbines beautiful or attractive. Wind turbines are certainly less visually invasive than coal fired electric plants and often add distinctive landmarks to the scenery. The visual impact of a turbine on Swan’s Island depends on the height of the tower and the site location. The SIEC will minimize visual impact by locating the turbine away from shore views and residential areas as much as possible. As part of the Phase I feasibility work, visual simulations will be prepared from various locations on the island.
Shadow flicker is a visual impact observed by some wind turbine neighbors. Shadow flicker is caused by the wind turbine blades crossing in front of the sun. Residents who live very close to wind turbines sometimes notice the shadow “flicker” when the shadow of the spinning turbine blades passes overhead. On Swan’s Island, siting the turbine away from residences will ensure that shadow flicker is a highly unlikely event.
The Cooperative is committed to observing the sound ordinances passed by the State of Maine. Additionally, we are closely monitoring the Vinalhaven Project to make our own determination on whether these ordinances have adequately protected nearby residents from turbine sound annoyance and to see how any lessons learned can be applied to our project. We recognize the need to maximize setbacks from residences in its turbine siting decisions. This is one of several factors which has made the MacDuffie site the most desirable choice for a possible Swan’s Island turbine at this time.
Wind Turbines and Other Energy Options
Once erected, wind turbines emit no greenhouse gasses, pollutants or heavy metals into the atmosphere. They do not release heat into rivers, lakes or the atmosphere and require only a small amount of land and infrastructure. Annual maintenance of each turbine requires only a small amount of fossil fuel use for maintenance, crew transportation, replacement parts, and lubricant disposal. It is not necessary to mine, produce, or process fuel for a wind turbine to produce electricity. Wind turbines are significantly quieter, more picturesque, and wildlife-friendly than coal or natural gas-fired electrical plants or nuclear reactors. Turbines may be disassembled and recycled.
Although wind power cannot supply US electricity demand alone, it poses a sustainable and clean alternative to fossil fuels and nuclear power. Around 90% of US electricity is generated from coal, natural gas or nuclear power. These energy sources produce by-products which are disposed of in the atmosphere (particulates, sulfur and nitrogen oxides, fly ash, mercury, radioactive isotopes, greenhouse gasses), water bodies (heat, waste water) or the earth (radioactive waste). The collection and preparation of fuel for an electricity plant results in the use of fossil fuels and electricity, the emission of more by-products, and an even larger ecological footprint.
Electricity generation has consequences to human health and quality of life including polluted water sources, decreased water availability, higher concentrations of carcinogens in the atmosphere, water and earth, decreased numbers of species due to habitat degradation or pollution, acid rain, bioaccumulation of mercury and other heavy metals in higher level predators, increased numbers of asthma and other health problems due to particulates and pollution levels. Air pollution is particularly important in Maine as the jet stream carries Midwest air pollutants to the Northeast.
The long-term consequences of current electricity generation practices are difficult to determine. It is clear that the environmental impact of electricity plants is large and that the limited supply of fossil fuels will force a change in practice even if it is not enacted now. The Swan’s Island Electric Cooperative is among the first electric cooperatives to examine wind power in Maine and is proud to contribute to a more sustainable future, and a future less dependent on foreign sources of fuel.
This site made possible by a grant from Island Institute.