Wednesday, July 30, 2008

This is what self-reliance looks like: Maine's Fox Islands will become entirely wind-powered

Via today's Bangor Daily News: the member-customers of the Fox Islands Electric Cooperative, which provides power to the islands of North Haven and Vinalhaven in Penobscot Bay, have overwhelmingly voted to go ahead with a wind power project that will provide enough electricity for the islands' 1500 permanent residents.

The islands currently import their electricity via an undersea cable. That cable will continue to provide back-up power during calm periods, but over the course of the year, the Cooperative expects to export 10,000 surplus megawatt-hours of electricity to the mainland - enough to pay for the project and reduce local electric rates. You can learn more about the complete proposal from the Fox Islands Electric Cooperative website.

It's interesting to compare this project with last year's Black Nubble proposal in Carrabasset Valley. That project was larger, with more turbines, but also further away from homes and less visible than the Fox Islands project will be. Why such overwhelming support for a project on Maine's prized coastline, and such bitter opposition for a project in one of Maine's poorest regions?

I was at one of the public hearings for the Carrabassett Valley project. The people opposing it were classical Jackass Environmentalists: dregs of the baby-boom, the Crummiest Generation, who had for decades fetishized a fantasy idea of "wild nature," and in their retirement sought out their dream of living in an isolated little cabin next to a huge ski resort. Wide, permanent clearcuts on Maine's second-tallest mountain don't bother them (because that's where they ski!), but a few wind turbines on the horizon would have been an unforgivable blight on the landscape. These are people who love quoting Thoreau but hate the actual practice of self-reliance.

Living on an island, on the other hand, does require real sacrifices and independence. The Fox Islands are a 75 minute ferry ride - in fair weather - from the mainland and its conveniences. Many islanders still make their living by harvesting the ocean's natural resources. These are people whom Thoreau would admire, even if they themselves would be more likely to judge Henry David as an insufferable Masshole.

I guess Fox Island residents just have more spine and less whine than the Quixotes of Carrabassett Valley. Thank goodness for that.


Jim said...

Thanks for your compliments on the Yukon post. So I feel a little like a heel to say don't let's over-romanticize the guys who harvest the natural resources of the sea. They're also first in line to decry fishing limits, shout down evidence of declining fish stocks, demand subsidies for boat fuel, and look everywhere but in the mirror for the causes of the fisheries' problems.

That aside--what a great project. Of course, VH/NH also boast some of the most expensive real-estate on the coast--another reason why the blue-collar year-rounders are getting the squeeze. I wonder how much they can tap the seasonals to defray the initial cost?

Turboglacier said...

"...will provide enough electricity for the islands' 1500 permanent residents. "

Hm. Just curious, what about the electricity use of the "summer people"? My guess is that N.Haven & Vinalhaven at least double, if not triple or more, in population over the summer.

C Neal said...

@Turbo - During June, July, and August, the islanders will have to import electricity from the mainland, both because of the summer people and because there's not as much wind. But in the winter, the turbines will generate more than is needed, and export a net 10,000 MW hours over the course of the year. There's a chart of monthly consumption/production at, under the "Economics" section.

@Jim - A fair criticism of fishermen, but mostly I was trying to contrast the islanders with the resort-dwellers in Carrabasset Valley. There's a lot more money on these islands, and yet the NIMBY response seems quite muted so far.

Another cultural difference that just occurred to me - I've heard that the Fox Islands are more and more being populated by summer people from Texas, the energy boom state. Texans have no illusions about where their electricity comes from - so unlike the old-money Kennedys, maybe these summer people are able to understand the choice between generating their own wind power or burning more fossil fuel upwind at Wyman Station.

seshupunter said...

Thanks for your complement. There are also first in line to deucy limits shut down evedence of declaineng fish stocks.


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