Clean energy on Monhegan benefits art museum

Village Soup
Posted 2017-09-13

By Dagney Ernest / Village Soup

State and federal representatives, island leaders and community partners joined the Monhegan community at a ribbon-cutting ceremony Aug. 21 to celebrate 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 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.

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.

“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,” said Jenn Pye, director of the Monhegan Museum of Art & History.

Pye said the museum is fortunate to have the 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,” Pye said.

Sen. Angus King and Susan Collins, as well as Rep. Chellie Pingree, provided statements supporting the project. In remarks delivered by their staff Aug. 21, 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.

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, but 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 that significantly impacted the reliability of power on the island. It builds off of several community-wide energy efficiency upgrades, as well.

“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,” said Chris Smith, MPPD’s operations manager. “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.”

“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.

The Monhegan Museum of Art & History, located in the historic Monhegan Island Light Station, is open daily through September. This year’s summer exhibition is “Reckoning with Nature: Andrew Winter at Monhegan Island”; also on view are works by James Fitzgerald in the Rockwell Kent/James Fitzgerald Historic Artists’ Home and Studio.

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