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News Feature

The Peninsula
Web exclusive, February 4, 2010
Capitalizing on imagination: Peninsula Power explores what might be

Wind Energy Archive
Click here to see the full Wind Energy Archive.

by Carolyn Coe

As singers’ voices travel down through the floorboards on a Thursday evening, some area residents gather in the meeting room of the Blue Hill Town Hall to talk community wind. They introduce ideas, confer, then put the ideas aside only to take them up again later when they crystallize into plans of action. The residents, all volunteers, imagine what could be and how these visions might be realized. As Peninsula Power seeks to determine the feasibility of a small-scale community wind energy project sited on Caterpillar Hill, group members continue to educate themselves on wind energy. They share this growing understanding with others through special events, bimonthly meetings, discussions with town selectmen, and updates on a group Web site.

Peninsula Power members explore ideas small town governments have little time to consider. As Blue Hill selectman and state representative Jim Schatz noted at the group’s January 14 meeting, small towns must address everyday concerns such as road and bridge maintenance, and they don’t have a grant writer on staff, “someone whose job it is to capitalize on imagination.”

As Peninsula Power continues its efforts to explore development of a community wind energy project, the group is also pursuing ideas to increase local energy awareness.

One step toward this broader goal could be through the formation of energy planning committees in Sedgwick, Blue Hill, Brooksville and Brooklin. Peninsula Power has applied for an Energy Efficiency and Conservation Block Grant in each of these towns.

If these grants were awarded in full, it would mean $5,000 for each town to engage in energy conservation—like adding insulation to the Sedgwick Town Hall—and $5,000 for each town to put toward a phase 1 feasibility study for the Peninsula Power wind project. Each town receiving the money would be required to form an energy planning committee with the aim of reducing energy usage and improving efficiencies.

Another way to open discussions about energy use may be the sale of energy-saving LED lights. Peninsula Power has asked General Electric for the donation of LED light bulbs, and initial contact with the company, Sandy Cohen reported, has been promising.

Peninsula Power members have decided to try to query community members at the annual town meetings on their interest in exploring the use of alternative energy technologies. Getting a question on the town warrants would be a means of “taking the temperature of the town on the whole issue,” said Schatz. This question would be in lieu of a warrant article requesting seed money from each town for the wind power feasibility study. Sedgwick selectmen recently balked during their January 7 meeting when asked to sign the contract for the meteorological tower to be loaned by the University of Maine. The selectmen want to avoid town liability for the tower.

To address these liability concerns, Peninsula Power members discussed shifting the test site to another property. They also discussed requesting an extension to the February 15 deadline for filing the paperwork for the meteorological tower. Installation of the tower will enable the group to collect data on wind speeds and wind direction for one year.

As the group rethinks the scope of its project, it is considering smaller-scale wind turbines than those installed on Vinalhaven, which may be more suitable for a neighborhood situation. Small-scale turbines might be located in several sites on the peninsula.

Another possibility with a smaller-scale project is net metering. Net metering enables electricity customers who generate some of their own energy from a renewable source to offset their consumption from an energy provider like Bangor Hydro. Unused kilowatt-hour credits may be accumulated and applied against usage on a rolling 12-month basis. Customers are eligible to apply for net metering as long as the alternative energy system has a capacity of 660 kW or less. The electricity generated locally may be shared by up to 10 locations anywhere in the Bangor Hydro territory.

During the meeting Peninsula Power also presented its priorities for its wind power feasibility study given the group’s limited funds. George Baker, of the Island Institute, has recommended that they first study one season of bird migration and explore entity issues.

The meeting concluded with thank-you letters signed to George Stevens Academy and to former Maine Governor Angus King for their participation in the Peninsula Power-sponsored presentation last month.