The hunt for wind turbines is on.
That’s the biggest hurdle now facing the Fox Islands wind power project, which could provide all the electricity needed annually to power North Haven and Vinalhaven.
On July 28, members of the Fox Islands Electric Cooperative approved the wind power project by a vote of 383 to 5. “It was a huge vote of confidence by the co-op in the wind power project,” said Dr. George Baker.
“We were extremely pleased,” said Chip Farrington, the co-op’s interim general manager. “It makes the project that much more exciting when you have that much support.”
As soon as the vote was held, Dr. George Baker was on the phone trying to track down turbines. “Because turbines are in such short supply, anyone who has one only wants to sell them to people who are bona fide,” Baker said. “All of a sudden, we’re bona fide.”
Baker had been on sabbatical from his post as a professor of the Harvard Business School, advising the co-op.
The next step is for the co-op board of directors to vote on creating a limited liability company (LLC), which would run the wind power project. This form of business organization is needed in order to finance the project, Baker said. As an LLC, the wind power project could enlist passive tax investors and would be eligible for federal tax credits that the co-op could not use, he said.
The co-op board was scheduled to consider the LLC proposal at the Aug. 26 meeting, according to Farrington. Board members already discussed at the June meeting whether they wanted the co-op, or an LLC, to run the wind power project, if it did get approval at the July meeting. In June, the board said they preferred an LLC, Farrington said.
The LLC will be run by a management committee appointed by the co-op. Baker is the candidate for CEO of the LLC, if it is approved, Farrington said. The LLC will be entirely owned by the co-op until the passive tax investors join, but Fox Islands Electric will still retain control at that point, Baker said.
Meanwhile, Baker is tracking down every lead on wind turbines.
The co-op is facing the same problem that all builders of wind power projects face: a world-wide shortage of wind turbines. Many projects in the United States have had to wait years to obtain turbines.
Because of the small size of the Fox Islands project, Baker is optimistic that he can get the turbines, despite the shortage. “Although turbines are in very short supply, projects all over the country speed up and slow down,” Baker said. “When they slow down, people have turbines that they don’t need now. And as soon as the world knows that you need turbines, they are interested in selling them.”
By early August, Baker had received calls from as far as Ohio with offers of turbines. With turbines costing as much as $2.5 million each, Baker has also discovered a dark underside to this business. “Charlatans are coming out of the woodwork, as well,” he said. He’s had several calls from people saying they could find the co-op turbines for a small finder’s fee. “It’s a brokerage business-you always have these characters,” he said.
In early August he was talking with four or five legitimate sellers who had turbines that would meet the needs of the Fox Islands project. Baker originally thought the co-op might have to compromise in its selection of wind turbines in order to get one in a timely fashion. “We’re starting to hear from all these people, and I’m not sure we will have to compromise,” he said.
Without the turbines, it is hard to be specific about the project. “Until we know what turbines we are obtaining, we won’t know the exact dollar figure and the exact number of megawatts,” Baker said. It means that plans for the wind project cannot be submitted to local, state or federal agencies.
Baker did say that the Fox Islands project will consist of at least two wind turbines (perhaps three) generating between 3.5 and 5 megawatts of power. The turbines would be built on top of a hill near a former granite quarry on Vinalhaven owned by Bill Alcorn and Del Webster.
Baker has said that the project will reduce the cost of buying power for the co-op between three to six cents per kilowatt hour and will stabilize the price of electricity for the next 20 years.
The proposal is the culmination of interest in wind power for Vinalhaven and North Haven that began in 2001 with then-general manager Dave Folce, who had worked on a wind farm in California.