Monhegan Wind Power Project Frequently Asked Questions – July 2009

(New: Part II)

  • Background
    In 2000, the Monhegan Plantation Power District (MPPD) installed a 3-diesel generator power station at the top of Lighthouse Hill with the intention to one day incorporate renewable energy into the system. As fuel prices rose over the years, various renewable options were considered but it wasn’t until July 2008 that MPPD Trustees voted to formally pursue wind power. Their decision was based on the findings of researchers at the University of Massachusetts Amherst and Tufts University that highlighted the island’s excellent wind resource and the major savings that could be attained through a wind-diesel hybrid system, as well as the decision of the nearby Fox Islands to develop a community-owned wind project. In September 2008, MPPD hosted a public meeting to outline the potential for wind on the island. Based on the community’s positive feedback, the District assembled a team of experts to further address the project’s technical feasibility, economic viability and potential environmental impacts. The results of this work have been presented at various community meetings over the past few months and an August vote of MPPD ratepayers and Monhegan taxpayers will determine whether or not MPPD will continue onto the permitting phase of the project.

  • How expensive is electricity on Monhegan and how does that compare with the national average?
    In September 2008, electric rates on Monhegan increased from 55 cents/kWh to 70 cents/kWh. Islanders currently pay the highest rate in Maine and one of the highest in the country. Due to the high costs of maintaining a stand-alone grid, transmission and distribution (T&D) accounts for 30-40 cents of that rate. Energy costs make up a significant portion of island household budgets.

  • Does Monhegan have a commercially viable wind resource?
    In April 2009, MPPD contracted with AWS Truewind, a well-respected firm that uses state-of-the-art technology to model wind speed. At 37 meters (the hub height of the proposed turbine), AWS Truewind estimated that mean wind speeds on Lighthouse Hill are 7.1 meters per second (15.9 mph). This is considered by wind power experts as an excellent wind resource.

  • How much power would a wind project generate?
    The project is sized so that it will generate approximately the same amount of power that the island uses during the year. Based on estimated wind speeds, a single 100 kW turbine would generate 314,000 kWh per year, 93%of the 335,000 kWh sold in 2008. However, there is an important seasonal “mismatch” to consider. During the winter months, wind generation would reach its peak while electricity consumption is at its lowest point. Approximately 50% of the power produced during this period would exceed the amount of power needed by the island. Conversely, during the summer months when electricity consumption peaks, the wind resource is lower and the system will need to draw from the diesel generators. Overall, a wind project would translate into a 50% reduction in the amount of diesel fuel used by the system.

  • What can be done with the excess power generated during the winter months?
    Monhegan is not connected to the mainland by a submarine cable so excess power cannot be sent back to the grid. In order to avoid “dumping” 50% of the electricity generated, MPPD will need to develop a way to immediately dispatch or store the excess electricity that is generated during the winter months. One particularly promising option would be to reduce the rate for wind-generated electricity and use it for space heating. Another option would be to use it to generate ammonia that could serve as a fuel to run in slightly modified generators. In both cases, these applications could help to reduce energy costs on the island could be even further.

  • Why not just install a submarine cable?
    Submarine cables are extremely vulnerable to damage from rough seas and marine activities unless they are buried. Unfortunately, it is very expensive to lay and bury cable, with the costs running at approximately $1 million dollars per mile installed. Moreover, it is likely that significant work would need to take place in order for the infrastructure on the St. George Peninsula to support a connection to Monhegan’s three-phase system. MPPD would still be reliant on diesel when there were cable outages or outages on the mainland.

  • How would the project affect rates on the island?
    Conservative estimates show that current rates could be reduced by 8-10% (6-8 cents) if the excess energy is “dumped.” As the price of diesel continues to increase, the wind component of the system will also help to stabilize rates. Additionally, if the excess power is used for space heating, it has the potential to reduce winter heating costs on the island by a third.

  • Is it possible to erect a turbine on Monhegan?
    In December 2008, MPPD met with a group of engineers to discuss the logistics of installing a wind turbine on the island. They reported that a turbine could get to the island by barge and be transported to the site on standard-sized trucks with minimal disruption to Monhegan roads. Although construction would need to take place during the summer or early fall in order to avoid high winds, the bulk of the work would be completed in just a few weeks.

  • How much would the project cost? How would MPPD finance it?
    While the exact cost of the project will not be known until the permitting and design phase is complete, it is currently estimated that the project will cost just under $700,000: $330,000 for the turbine itself, $200,000 for construction and $150,000 for pre-development. Fortunately, several promising options exist for MPPD to finance the project. First, MPPD could enter into an agreement with a tax equity investor that would provide start-up capital in return for valuable tax credits that MPPD (a non-profit entity) does not have the ability to use. It is possible that such an investor like this could contribute up to 40% of the project’s total cost. Second, it is likely that MPPD could qualify for a low-interest loan from the federal Rural Utility Service (RUS). On the nearby Fox Islands, a much larger, $14.3 million wind project was recently financed with $4.8 million from a tax equity investor and a $9.5 million low-interest loan from the RUS. To date, MPPD, Monhegan Plantation and the Island Institute have allocated $56,000 for feasibility studies.

  •  How would a wind project affect the environment?
    MPPD recognizes the importance of the island to numerous avian species and began studying the issue at the outset of this project. In November 2008, Dr. Richard Podolsky, a noted ornithologist that has worked on over 50 wind power projects and has spent many years studying raptors on Monhegan, began a year-long series of surveys to assess the risk of a project on Lighthouse Hill. Thus far, results have indicated that the number of birds and diversity of species at the site are low relative to the rest of the island, therefore the risk of collision for all birds appears to be very low. An auditory study for bats will begin in August 2009. Dr. Podolsky and MPPD have also been meeting with state and federal regulators to ensure that the study meets the standards of the permitting agencies.
  • Sound
    A detailed sound study will be performed during the permitting phase but initial research has shown that the project will have modest sound impacts. The turbine under consideration has a gearless design, is known for its low noise level and has even been sited next to an elementary school as well as in a garden center located in a residential neighborhood. At the closest residence, the sound of the turbine should have a lower dB reading than the existing power station and because the turbine will reduce the need for the diesel generators, it will also reduce the amount of noise coming from the power station. The sound study will be reviewed by regulators and will be subject to state sound guidelines that recommend that a wind project not exceed 45 decibels at the nearest residence.
  • Shadow Flicker
    Shadow flicker occurs when a turbine’s blades cast a moving shadow on buildings that are close to the project. It is not a constant phenomenon, as it is tied directly to the sun’s position in the sky (which moves both throughout the day and over the year). If the project moves on to the permitting phase, a thorough study will show the number of minutes or hours a year a building is exposed to flicker but initial research has shown that the effect will be extremely limited on Monhegan.
  • Emissions Reductions
    Renewable energy plays an important role in combating climate change and improving air quality. Displacing 50% of the system’s diesel use would result in a reduction of 187 tons of CO2, 1.2 tons of SOx and 3.7 tons of NOx. If a use were found for the excess power, these reductions would be even greater. A wind power project would significantly reduce Monhegan’s carbon footprint and improve the quality of air on the island.

  • What about the safety of Monhegan residents and visitors?
    MPPD has had several discussions with Life Flight regarding the proposed project and it has been determined that the site is outside the limits of the established flight path for Lighthouse Hill. If a turbine is erected, Life Flight will train its pilots to be able to avoid the tower, although there is a chance that the tower will need to be lit, at least during rescues. MPPD has also communicated with the FAA and if the project proceeds the District will go through the agency’s filing process. As far as safety around the site, the project will be required to meet state and federal safety guidelines and will be fully insured. The turbine will be serviced regularly by its manufacturer and MPPD will provide training to islanders in emergency response. Blade throw has been unheard of in recent years due to improved design and engineering. Any build up of ice on turbine blades can be detected by its control system, causing the machine to temporarily shutdown and avoid the issue of ice throw.

  • What would the turbine look like?
    The hub height of the turbine being considered is 121 feet and the length of its blades is 34.5 feet. To the tip of the top blade, it would be approximately 155.5 feet. Photo simulations of the project are currently being prepared and will be shared with the public at the July 20th meeting and will be available online at /windpower.

  • What about solar power? Tidal or wave?
    MPPD first considered solar power for the island in 2001 when the District received a grant to support rooftop installations. Unfortunately, further research found that the upfront cost for residents were quite high and the amount of power that could be produced was relatively low. MPPD is currently working with solar experts to consider the potential for solar to lower electric rates but initial research has shown that there is limited ability for the technology to be a cost-effective solution.
  • Wave and tidal power are dependent on very new technologies that are costly to employ, have very long permitting periods and are not particularly reliable. At this point, they do not offer a practical solution to Monhegan’s energy needs.

  • Are other islands looking at wind power development?
    Island communities in Maine are increasingly looking to wind power as an alternative to the above-average electric rates that challenges their ability to make a living. The nearby Fox Islands Electric Cooperative has recently begun construction on a 3-turbine, 4.5 MW wind facility on Vinalhaven that will be operational by November 2009. The Swan’s Island Electric Cooperative has also made headway with initial feasibility work for a local project.

    What is the timeline for this process?

    On August 12, 2009, Monhegan ratepayers and taxpayers will be asked to vote on whether or not MPPD should continue on to the permitting and financing phase of the wind power project. One vote will be allotted to each household. The vote essentially gives the community veto power on whether or not to proceed: if there are not high levels of support for the project, MPPD will not continue with its efforts to explore wind power. If there is considerable support for the project, MPPD will begin to work with experts to prepare an Environmental Impact Statement and to design a financing plan. At that point, LURC (working with the Departments of Environmental Protection and Inland Fisheries and Wildlife) will guide the permitting process for the State of Maine. If the project moves through this process in a timely manner, it is possible that permitting and financing could be in place by Spring 2010 and construction could be complete by Fall 2010.