As its annual meeting approaches, the board of the Fox Islands Electric Cooperative (FEIC) is looking for input from ratepayers about a proposal to build two wind turbines that could generate all the electricity needed annually to power North Haven and Vinalhaven.

If the co-op decides to proceed, it would be the second largest commercial wind project located on the east coast, according to Dr. George Baker, a professor at Harvard Business School who is helping the islands with the project.

The final details of the proposal will presented at the July 28 annual meeting of the cooperative. Essentially, the project would consist of two wind turbines, with the hubs 262 feet high and the tip of the blades possibly as tall as 426 feet, located on a hill near a former granite quarry on Vinalhaven owned by Bill Alcorn and Del Webster. Baker said buying and building the turbines could cost between $10 and $12 million, depending on the size of the turbines and how much power they would generate. It would cost about $100,000 annually to pay for insurance and a warranty on the windmills and for operating costs, including the lease of the site, according to Baker. This proposal is the culmination of interest in wind power for the two islands that began in 2001 with then-general manager Dave Folce, who had worked on a wind farm in California.

Locking in the price of power

Because the wind does not blow consistently year-round, the turbines would not make the two islands self-sufficient for electricity, Baker said. Also, the time when there is peak demand for electricity – the summer – is also when the wind blows less. So the co-op would buy power from the New England power grid when there is less wind and sell power back to the grid when there is more wind.

With fluctuations in wind and energy demand, the co-op would end up using about 60 percent of the power generated by the windmills.

“We’re not really energy-independent in the technical sense, but in the economic sense, we would be completely independent of power prices,” Baker said. “The co-op as an entity would be completely insulated from power increases or decreases in the energy market.”

Chip Farrington, interim general manager of FIEC, said it has not yet been decided how the savings created by the wind project would be passed on to ratepayers. “I think the project will be a huge benefit to members of the co-op and will have a very positive impact on lowering their electric rates. It will provide stability in pricing plus it is a renewable source of energy, which is a very positive thing,” he said.

And unlike other wind projects in the state, such as the Mars Hill wind farm, this one has a direct benefit to the local community, according to Jim Wilson, project manager for Woodard & Curran, a Portland engineering firm hired to study aspects of the project. “Both benefit the communities they are in by reducing taxes and those kinds of benefits, but in this case, it is being done by their own electric co-op, so the savings is passed on directly to the end user,” said Wilson.

The cost of power is about 35 percent of a co-op member’s electric bill, with the other 65 percent fixed overhead costs, according to Baker. But because the co-op would be selling about the same amount of power it uses each year (about 4,000 megawatt-hours), it would lock in the cost of power. “Our cost for electricity would be completely determined by how much we have to pay for the windmills, which is a fixed cost,” Baker said. As of June, co-op customers pay between 28 and 28.5 cents per kilowatt-hour, according to Farrington.

There are many options for paying for the project. At a public presentation on North Haven on May 29, Baker said the co-op would have the choice to finance the windmills with a combination of selling renewable energy credits, a grant and/or a loan from the Rural Utility Services division of the federal Department of Agriculture, money from passive investors, renewable energy loans from the federal government (although that program has not been renewed by the U.S. Congress), bond offerings to islanders or investment from developers.

The co-op has budgeted about $62,000 to pay for an environmental study focusing on birds as well as the Woodard & Curran study, according to Bill McGuinness, Island Institute policy specialist who is assisting with the project. The institute has committed to funding half of those two studies.

The co-op’s nine-member board was scheduled to meet on June 24 to work out final details of the proposal to the annual meeting, according to Elliot Brown, board president. The board might consider whether there should be a vote of co-op members to decide the next step on the project, Brown said. Brown believes the board has the power to move ahead on the wind project, but “they do want input from the members.”

“We want to be very open with people on this project,” said Farrington. “We do need their support.”

Community meetings will be held in North Haven and Vinalhaven in July, before the annual meeting, to answer questions and solicit input about the wind power project, said McGuinness. The first meeting on North Haven will be announced later. The second meeting will be held Mon. July 14 at 7:30 p.m. at Smith Hokanson Memorial Hall on Vinalhaven.

Buying the right turbine

The Woodard & Curran report will address what type of wind turbines to use, how to get the turbines and construction equipment out to the islands, the project’s impact on abutters, the turbines’ visual impact, how much noise the turbines would make and the windmills’ effect on birds. The board was to receive the final draft of that report at the end of June.

One of the biggest challenges for the project is obtaining a wind turbine without having to wait for several years, since there is huge worldwide demand right now and the co-op project is small.

 “In the wind market right now, wind turbines are like gold,” said Wilson. “It’s like you’re dealing with Ferrari.”

At his May 29 presentation, Baker did cost estimates with two V-82, 1.65 megawatt turbines manufactured by Vestas Wind Systems of Denmark. But he does not have a preferred turbine, because it depends on price, Baker said.

 “We are working incredibly hard to try and figure out how not to wait three or four years” for this type of turbine, Baker said. Most projects need 25 to 50 turbines, and the bigger projects use 150, so Baker is hoping that a wind developer who might want to be associated with the Fox Islands project might be convinced to sell two turbines. Another alternative is to buy a turbine from another project that has stalled, according to Wilson.

For more information on the wind power project, go to: