Community Wind: Maine Island Community Lowering Energy Costs with Wind-Power Project

By Borst, Alan | Rural Cooperatives, March-April 2010 | Go to article overview

Community Wind: Maine Island Community Lowering Energy Costs with Wind-Power Project


Borst, Alan, Rural Cooperatives


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Conventional electricity generation from fossil fuels is associated with several policy problems, including pollution, import dependency from countries with hostile or troubled governments, trade deficits and periodic price shocks. Renewable energy sources are clean fuels that are domestically-based and substantially local.

Wind is one of the lowest cost and fastest growing renewable energy sources in the United States. Wind power provides clean and cost-effective energy generation, increases rural incomes, hedges against fuel price shocks and increases energy security.

Most U.S. wind-energy projects are remotely owned by large corporations, while the remaining fraction is owned, wholly or in part, by local residents and businesses--referred to as "community wind." According to Windustry, a Minneapolis-based nonprofit organization working to increase wind energy opportunities for rural residents, as of January 2010, community wind makes up 1,521 megawatts (MW) of the total 35,170 MWof U.S. wind energy. Community wind energy projects have all the benefits of remotely owned wind projects and some important additional ones.

Community wind developer Own Energy identifies three important benefits:

* Ownership is retained in the community and profits are "recycled" there, creating incremental jobs, wages, business income and local pride.

* Community wind developers and their financial partners are typically U.S.-based, further ensuring that profits from these projects are pumped back into the home economy, not shipped overseas.

* Increased success rate of community wind projects leads to increased knowledge, awareness and acceptance of wind power, thus reducing public opposition.

The bottom line: few would dispute that community wind is good for the economic development of rural communities and for the entire U.S. wind-energy industry.

Best in the West, Least in the East

Community wind is geographically concentrated in five states: Minnesota, Washington, California, Iowa and Texas. These five states have 88 percent of developed U.S. community wind power. States east of the Mississippi River have 2.5 percent of U.S. com munity wind. This is partly due to the more limited wind resources available in much of the East, especially the Southeast. It is also because of higher population density and real estate patterns. Landowners tend to own smaller parcels of land, which makes project development more difficult. Mark Anderson summed up the New England situation in the May 2007 edition of Windpower Monthly by commenting that it is a region "where vistas are sacred and naysayers can be rich and powerful."

Massachusetts has by far the most community wind of any eastern state, with 15 megawatts (MW). Massachusetts has been relatively successful at promoting community wind development through a series of programs and incentives over the last decade. The coastal town of Hull, outside of Boston, installed the first community-owned utility-scale wind turbine in New England in 2001. It proved to be popular enough that a second, larger wind turbine was installed in May of 2006.

With the success of the Hull project as precedent, several other community wind projects were developed in Massachusetts. All of these projects have been developed by either municipalities or a single business or organization. The cooperative model that has been so successful with community wind projects in the Midwest and West had not been used in New England until recently. All that changed recently on a Maine island.

Wind Power Down East

The largest community-owned wind project in the East was recently completed on the island of Vinalhaven--one of the Fox islands--in Penobscot Bay off the central Maine coast. The hope of the project developers and local community wind advocates has been that this project could serve as a template that would stimulate similar projects. …

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