Monhegan completes multi-year project to reduce energy costs

Posted 2017-08-28

James McCarthy / Mainebiz

Monhegan Island, which has some of the highest electricity costs in the nation, completed a comprehensive upgrade of its power-generating system that includes the addition of a solar array and installation of a new, cleaner-burning diesel generator.

At roughly 70 cents per kilowatt hour, the island’s electricity costs are approximately five times higher than the average residential cost in Maine, according to an analysis conducted by the Maine Public Utilities Commission based on rates that were current on Dec. 31, 2015.

The Island Institute reported that Monhegan residents celebrated completion of the project on Aug. 21 with a ribbon-cutting ceremony attended by representatives of the congressional offices of U.S. Sens. Susan Collins, R-Maine, and Angus King, I-Maine and 1st District U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree, D-Maine, as well as island leaders and community partners.

A significant source of funding for the project came from a $420,000 grant awarded to the community-owned Monhegan Plantation Power District in late 2012 by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s High Energy Cost Grant program to replace its aging switchgear system, adding a smaller 40-kilowatt-hour diesel-fired microturbine system and a 13kW solar array that are designed to more efficiently cover the island’s electricity needs.

Besides improving reliability and safety of service, the new system is expected to reduce generator emissions.

The nearby Monhegan Museum of Art and History will use waste heat from the microturbines to provide dehumidification and heat for its world-class art and historic artifact collection. The museum also implemented other energy efficiency measures as part of its efforts to lower energy costs, reduce its environmental impact and improve conditions for preserving its collections. Its upgrades were funded by a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities.

Project benefits entire island community

Courtesy / Island Institute COURTESY / ISLAND INSTITUTEKole Lord of the community-owned Monhegan Plantation Power District stands next to some of the new equipment inside one part of the Monhegan power station.

Located about 12 miles offshore, Monhegan had 69 year-round residents, according to the 2010 U.S. Census, but as Mainebiz reported in October 2014 its population, like most of Maine’s offshore islands, faces significant challenges to remain sustainable. Energy costs, along with jobs and affordable housing, are at the top of the list — with the Island Institute reporting in its 2017 Waypoints analysis of island and coastal communities that Maine’s offshore island residents spend 16% to 18% of their median household income on home heating and electricity, compared to 8.8% for Maine and 3% for the United States.

“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,” Pingree, who lives on North Haven island, said in a news release. “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.”

Chris Smith, operations manager of the Monhegan Plantation Power District, described the new system as “a huge step forward as we try to provide cleaner, more reliable and affordable power to our customers…. 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.”

Jenn Pye, director of the Monhegan Museum of Art and History, said Monhegan’s high humidity and extreme weather conditions create numerous preservation challenges for the museum.

” We are grateful to have this wonderful opportunity to collaborate with the Monhegan Plantation Power District,” she said. “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.”

The museum will use waste heat from the microturbines for space heating and dehumidification and, beginning this fall, heat and dehumidification for the storage vaults, archives and gallery will be provided primarily by solar collectors supplementing the waste heat from the power district.

“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.

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