Monhegan Island celebrates completion of multi-year clean energy initiative for community, art museum

Posted 2017-08-25

MONHEGAN ISLAND, ME — On Monday, August 21st, state and federal representatives, island leaders, and community partners joined the Monhegan community at a ribbon-cutting ceremony celebrating the completion of a comprehensive upgrade to the island’s energy systems. The culmination of countless hours of hard work, the project enables the community-owned Monhegan Plantation Power District (MPPD) to power the island with cleaner burning diesel-fired microturbines and a solar array. The new system is designed to improve reliability and safety of service and reduce generator emissions on the island. In addition, the Monhegan Museum of Art & History will use waste heat from the microturbines to provide dehumidification and heat for its world-class collection, and has implemented other energy efficiency measures as part of a larger initiative to lower energy costs, reduce the environmental impact of the museum, and improve preservation conditions.

Senators Angus King and Susan Collins, as well as Representative Chellie Pingree, provided statements supporting the project. In remarks delivered by their staff, the Congressional delegates highlighted the project’s importance in addressing energy and sustainability issues on the year-round island and serving as a model of what clean energy can do in Maine and elsewhere.

“This project truly benefits the entire community, and I am pleased to join in recognizing the vision, leadership, and tireless efforts of all who worked to bring it to fruition, said Senator Susan Collins. Added Senator King, “I cannot overstate the importance of this project, both to the community of Monhegan, but also as a model of sustainable energy solutions for other island communities here in Maine and across the globe, said Senator Angus King. “Island communities in Maine, often through necessity, have led the way on innovative solutions to real energy challenges. The dedicated community in Monhegan, along with the important support of the Island Institute and a host of federal and state funding agencies, began a conversation years ago that’s resulting in a reliable, sustainable, and affordable energy program.”

“Monhegan Island, like other year-round island communities, faces serious challenges to its future sustainability, with the sky-high cost of energy at the top of that list,” noted Representative Chellie Pingree. “That’s why I’m so glad to see this project move forward after years of hard work and overcoming several hurdles. I’m thrilled that it will bring down energy costs for the island, while making less of an impact on the environment and helping preserve the priceless collection at the Monhegan Museum of Art and History.”

Due to the added expense of transportation and on-island generation, many of Maine’s year-round island communities pay some of the highest energy costs in the nation: up to $0.70 per kWh for electricity (five times the state average) and more than a dollar more per gallon of heating oil than customers on the mainland. The good news is that these communities are developing creative approaches to address high costs and reduce reliance on expensive and polluting fuels through community-based clean energy initiatives. By working together with their neighbors, island and coastal residents are starting to change the energy landscape. Monhegan’s upgraded system replaces a set of noisy, dirty, and outdated diesel generators, as well as malfunctioning controls which significantly impacted the reliability of power on the island. It builds off of several community-wide energy efficiency upgrades as well.

“The new system is a huge step forward for MPPD as we try to provide cleaner, more reliable and affordable power to our customers,” said Chris Smith, MPPD’s operations manager. “The technical, logistical, and financial challenges of replacing our system were steep, but thanks to the patience and perseverance of community members and the support of our partners, we are thrilled to have this project online. While we are still dependent on diesel, we are using it smarter through the use of the advanced Capstone Microturbine System as well as recapturing the waste heat that is otherwise thrown away.”

“It’s really about unity for us, added Marian Chioffi, project administrator for MPPD. “We’d like to thank those from away and our community for getting us to this point.”

Known for its roots as an artists’ destination dating back to the mid-19th century, Monhegan’s landscape has inspired well-known artists such as George Bellows, Edward Hopper, Rockwell Kent, and Jamie Wyeth. With this rich artistic history and a priceless collection in need of protection from the elements, including the Monhegan Museum of Art & History in the upgrade project was essential to the community. The museum will use waste heat from the microturbines for space heating and dehumidification as part of a larger initiative to lower energy costs and reduce its environmental impact. Beginning this fall, heat and dehumidification for the storage vaults, archives, and gallery will be provided primarily by solar collectors, and by waste heat from the Power District.

Said Jenn Pye, director of the Monhegan Museum of Art & History, “Monhegan provides inspiration for artists, photographers and many other visitors; however, being entirely surrounded by water, the high humidity and extreme weather conditions of this island environment creates numerous preservation challenges. We are grateful to have this wonderful opportunity to collaborate with the Monhegan Plantation Power District. This innovative partnership has allowed the museum to improve the environmental conditions for our collections, while reducing our dependence on electricity and fossil fuels. These improved conditions will help preserve the museum’s tremendous collection of artwork, photographs, and all things Monhegan.”

In 1999, the Monhegan Plantation Power District (MPPD) built its three-generator, 320 kW stand-alone diesel power station with the intent of incorporating renewables into the system at one point. In 2012, after experiencing significant difficulties with the plant’s equipment, MPPD designed the Hybrid Power Project to replace a malfunctioning switchgear, upgrade from generators with no emissions controls to cleaner burning microturbines, and integrate solar PV into the system. The system is designed to improve reliability and safety of service and reduce generator emissions on the island. The MPPD upgrade was funded with a High Energy Cost Grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Rural Utilities Service. The Monhegan Museum upgrades were funded by grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities.

“While the technical components of Monhegan’s innovative energy projects are attracting attention from as far away as Alaska, this is truly a story of the power of community and what one small but dedicated group of people can accomplish,” said Suzanne MacDonald, Community Energy Director at the Island Institute, which provided project design, fundraising, implementation, and communications support for the project. “We were pleased to support this effort and look forward to sharing Monhegan’s story in Maine and beyond.”