Maine Islands' electricity rates from mainland suppliers have increased significantly in recent years and are expected to increase further in the future as demand for energy worldwide continues to grow. In an effort to reduce and stabilize electricity rates for Island residents, the Swan’s Island Electric Cooperative (SIEC) is investigating wind power.
Informal studies in 2006 and 2007 indicated that several medium-sized wind turbines could provide most of Swans Island’s electricity needs in the fall and winter months, while allowing excess power to be sold back to the mainland. These informal studies appeared to suggest that our Island’s electric rates could be reduced and then stabilized at levels closer to what mainland electric customers were paying.
In August, 2007, the Swan’s Island Electric Cooperative, with the assistance of a U.S.Dept. of Energy Grant and with the help of the Renewable Energy Lab at the University of Massachusetts (Amherst), embarked on a two year wind study. The purpose of the study was to determine just how strong Swan’s Island’s wind resource was, and to find out how much electricity could be generated by one or two wind turbines.
Wind measuring instruments were installed at 135 ft. and at 160 ft. on the 300 foot tall U.S. Cellular Tower on Stockbridge Hill. Wind velocity and wind direction at these two heights were measured and recorded every 10 seconds, 24 hours a day, for two years ending August 31st, 2009.
In October, 2009, three utility- scale wind turbines began operation on Vinalhaven – about 20 miles to the southwest. This has provided the Swan’s Island Electric Cooperative with a convenient model to study and to gain valuable lessons-learned. For more information on Vinalhaven’s Wind Project click here: foxislandswind.com
SWAN’S ISLAND’S PRELIMINARY WIND POWER STUDY RESULTS
A preliminary analysis of the wind resource study has proven that Swan's Island’s wind resource is strong –potentially cabable of producing as much as 40% more power than projected on Vinalhaven’s, and is more than adequate to produce most of the Island’s power needs during the windier months of the year. Using the wind data collected for the 12 calendar months of 2008 , Swan’s Island’s wind velocity averages nearly 13 miles per hour, compared to Vinalhaven’s average of 11.9 miles per hour. While this difference may seem slight, the power of the wind varies with the cube of the wind’s velocity, therefore small differences in wind velocity greatly magnify the power that the wind exerts. In fact, the graph below depicts the amount of power which could be produced on Swan’s Island by one General Electric 1.5 Megawatt utility-scale turbine similar to the three presently in operation on Vinalhaven.
THE ECONOMIC IMPLICATIONS AND THE WAY AHEAD …
The results of the Swan’s Island Wind Study indicate the presence of a strong wind resource capable (when matched to a single utility-scale wind turbine) of producing most of our Island’s present power needs while providing a significant amount of clean, renewable energy for export to the mainland for resale. Recent Maine State legislation enacted especially for Swan’s Island, and similar to that enacted for Vinalhaven a few years ago, allows the Swan’s Island Electric Cooperative to sell excess power to the mainland, provided that the proceeds from these sales are utilized to reduce the retail cost of power for its Swans Island Cooperative members. The sale of excess electrical power to the mainland, when added to the savings achieved by producing most of our own electricity for our own use, promises the possibility of cheaper electricity for the long term and more stable electric rates, since the Island would be less dependent on fluctuating oil and natural gas prices for its electric power.
The graph below illustrates this concept as it applies to predictions for the Vinalhaven Wind Project. The three turbines on Vinalhaven are expected to be able to produce power at a cost closer to what members paid for power in the 1990s – about 6 cents per kilowatt hour – and to maintain that price point over the twenty year life of the project.
WOULD THE SAME ECONOMIC BENEFITS PREDICTED FOR VINALHAVEN ACCRUE TO A SWAN'S ISLAND WIND PROJECT?
Quite possibly, but it’s worth noting some differences in the scope and size of the project on Vinalhaven compared to a project for Swan’s Island. The power demands being met by three large turbines on Vinalhaven are at least four times as large as the power needed by Swan’s Island. Consequently, we would use only one turbine, and even then, we would be exporting more power for resale and we would be generating and consuming more of our own power needs, as a percentage of our overall power demand than the project on Vinalhaven. That might indicate that the economic benefits of a Wind Power Project on Swan’s Island could be even more promising than the Vinalhaven model.
So, it’s easy to see why the task of evaluating our project – even compared to a similar project nearby – can get very complicated, very fast. And we’ve just touched on the Economics! How about the Engineering considerations? How about the effects on our Environment? How would such a large project be Financed?
THE PHASE ONE FEASIBILITY STUDY – THE NEXT STEP
The Island Institute has developed a three-phase process for community wind that prioritizes public involvement. There are two main goals for Phase I:
While Phase I lays the ground work for the various permit applications for federal and state agencies, it focuses principally on the technical, engineering and economic aspects of the proposed project, and attempts to validate or disprove the many assumptions which must hold up if the project is be viable. In this way, the community is provided with enough information to make an informed decision about the project before larger amounts of money are invested. Do the projected costs and benefits justify moving on to Phase II’s pre-development work and permitting? Phase I culminates with a community-wide vote. Only if there is broad-based support will the project move forward.
While the cost of Phase I is significant (roughly $50,000) and the work takes several months, it is absolutely essential as it helps the community decide if the Project is in their best interest and should be pursued or if it is unlikely to prove beneficial and should be shelved.
THE ROLE OF THE ISLAND INSTITUTE
As with the Wind Projects on Vinalhaven and Monhegan, the Island Institute has stepped forward with a promise to help with the cost of a Formal Feasibility Study, provided that the communities of Frenchboro and Swan's Island are willing to contribute funds of their own. In March 2010, voters on Swan’s Island will be considering an article to contribute $9,000 of town funds to Phase I; in June 2010, Frenchboro voters will be considering a contribution of $1,000. If our communities vote to make these funds available, the Island Institute will assist in raising the balance needed for the Phase I Study.
Phase II, which includes the Permitting Process, as well as the financial and legal arrangements, could consume much of 2011, and actual construction and commissioning of a wind turbine (Phase III) could easily stretch into the summer and fall of 2012.
THE BROAD TIMELINE FOR A WIND POWER PROJECT ON SWAN’S ISLAND
If the Phase I Study is commissioned and completed by late summer, 2010, then the community will be able to view and discuss the results. If the Board of Trustees of the Swan’s Island Electric Cooperative believe that the report is supportive of moving forward with permitting and financing a Wind Power Project, then it will move to hold a vote of the Cooperative membership to see whether there is strong community support for a project among year-round and summer residents who are members of the Electric Cooperative. A strong majority vote of the membership would authorize the Board to begin the application for permits and to begin arranging the financing for the project to move forward.
This web site is sponsored by the Swan’s Island Electric Cooperative,
a member-owned electric utility providing service to 275 year-round and
204 seasonal residents on Swan's Island and Frenchboro.
This site was made possible by a grant from Island Institute.
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