VINALHAVEN, Maine - Members of the Fox Islands Electric Cooperative, which provides power to residents of this Penobscot Bay island and neighboring North Haven, have voted overwhelmingly to pursue a wind power project that will be the largest along the coast of the northeastern United States, according to co-op officials.
The vote Monday on the proposed project was 382 co-op members in favor and 5 opposed, according to a statement released Tuesday by the co-op.
The co-op plans to erect two or three turbines, which are expected to generate 3.5 megawatts to 5 megawatts more than the wind turbine project in Hull, Mass., the statement indicated. It also is expected to be the first wind power project in Maine that will provide power directly to nearby residents rather than having all of its generated electricity fed into the regional power grid before being distributed to customers.
The turbines are expected to generate enough power for all of the islands’ winter residents, meaning the co-op should be able to sell excess power into the grid in the winter. During the summer, when the population of the islands increases, the co-op will have to import power to help it meet all of its customers’ needs.
About 1,500 people live on the two islands year-round, and about 4,500 during peak summer season. The co-op has approximately 1,900 customers. Vinalhaven has roughly three times the number of residents as North Haven.
State Rep. Hannah Pingree, D-North Haven, indicated in the press release that the project should help reduce power costs for island residents. Like other island towns, such as Swans Island and Isle au Haut, which have co-ops that purchase power from electric utilities, residents of Vinalhaven and North Haven have power bills that average about $120 a month.
“Over the past five years, island ratepayers have seen significant increases in their electricity bills, even before the current energy crisis,” Pingree said in the release. “Now we have a unique opportunity to stabilize and, ideally, lower our electricity rates while also producing our own renewable energy.”
George Baker, a professor of business administration on leave from Harvard Business School, has been working on the project with co-op officials, community leaders and the Rockland-based Island Institute. He said Tuesday that the co-op is working to secure financing for the project from private sources.
“Now we’ re poised to move forward quickly through the planning process, working hand-in-hand with municipal leaders,” Baker said in the release. “The only element that might get in the way is the difficulty of acquiring turbines.”
According to Bill McGuinness, policy specialist for the Island Institute, the entire project is expected to cost between $10 million and $13 million. The co-op has not determined exactly how many or roughly what size turbines it will acquire, he said, but it likely will get two or three. These details, and how long it takes to get the project approved and then up and running, likely will be determined by what turbines are available, he said.
“It’ s really too early to say,” McGuinness said. “I think if it’ s going to happen, it will happen within two years.”