Community wind project begins generating for Maine islands By Chris Madison

November 17, 2009 was a big day for the residents of the Fox Islands, offshore Maine. Three General Electric 1.5 megawatt wind turbines began operating, providing power for the two islands, which previously were paying about 28 cents per kilowatt hour, twice the national average, for power from the mainland. They expect their bills to go down within the year. That will cap an eight year effort by the Fox Islands Electric Cooperative, Inc., which first began looking into wind power back in 2001.

But the happy ending is just one of the many notable elements of this project. The CEO of Fox Islands Wind LLC, the company that oversaw the construction of the wind project, is a Harvard economics professor; he is now looking for similar opportunities in the coastal region. By all accounts, the islands community was solidly behind the project. They followed the construction progress closely this past summer, welcoming the construction crews and pitching in when necessary (including when the axle of a trailer carrying a tower section went off the road, blocking traffic for more than three hours). All summer, the islanders followed progress through emails and on fishermen’s radios, and even baked sweets for the visiting crews.

The project’s higher-ups shared the upbeat spirit. "It is exciting to see the turbines in operation," said Baker, project CEO and Vice President for Community Wind at the Island Institute. "To see them providing benefits to these islands is the culmination of years of contribution by many people. These island communities are truly leaders in the field of coastal renewable energy," he added.

"This project demonstrates wind energy’s reliability and cost-effectiveness," said Victor Abate, Vice President, Renewables for GE Power & Water, which supplied the turbines. "The Fox Islands Wind Project should serve as an example of how safe, clean, renewable wind energy can power America and create jobs. GE is proud to be a part of this project and we’re confident that wind power will be a major source of clean, affordable energy for communities large and small."

For this project, the emphasis was on small–the small-town feel was palpable. When the job was done, the construction company that put up the towers placed an prominent notice on the project website that read, "Cianbro would like to thank local citizens for your help during transportation and construction for the Fox Islands Wind Project."

Susan Sloan, manager of strategic partnerships for AWEA and a community wind expert, said, "This community seized the wind and embraced an innovative solution to their electricity needs. While sharing in the effort to make this project happen, they will also share in the benefits of wind – long term stable cost, local jobs and a clean, inexhaustible fuel supply."

Chris Madison, American Wind Energy Association