As Gladys Hutchinson walked up the access road, past Turbine 3, she and her friend Joy Woodcock, were amazed. “It’s like you’re in another world,” she said. Hutchinson, of Vinalhaven, said she had driven past the site all summer during construction of the turbines, but today was different. “It’s like you’re seeing it for the very first time—it is just awesome.”
“Fantastic,” beautiful,” and “awesome” were just a few of the comments from islanders about the three, 1.5 megawatt wind turbines on Vinalhaven. Over 400 people came to the site of the Fox Islands Wind Power Project for the November 17 ribbon-cutting, held to celebrate the completion of the turbines, which now provide power to North Haven and Vinalhaven residents.
As they walked in, islanders looked up at the turbines, which are 388-feet high from the ground to the tip of the blade. The turbine blades were slowly turning in the northwest wind, making whooshing noises as the spun. “This is fantastic, I think they are beautiful,” said Gery Torborg, of Vinalhaven.
The crowd included 160 school children—all the students from grades 3 through 12 from both North Haven and Vinalhaven. School children passed out programs and pinwheels to islanders, visitors and dignitaries who gathered near the base of Turbine 2, which was shut down during the ceremony for safety reasons having to do with the transformer at the base of the turbine. The other two turbines remained spinning.
The ceremony marked the official start of power production by the $15 million Fox Islands Wind Project. It was the culmination of work began in 2001, as North Haven and Vinalhaven residents sought to stabilize their electric rates, which are twice as high as on the mainland, to help keep the island sustainable.
Over the course of a year the three turbines are expected to generate all the power needed on the two islands. Since the wind power project is owned by the Fox Islands Electric Cooperative, ratepayers on both islands directly benefit from the wind turbines.
Islanders were clearly proud that North Haven and Vinalhaven had taken this step. “We could have never envisioned something like this 20 years ago,” said Hutchinson. “I wish our grandparents could be here to see it.”
Island Institute President Philip Conkling said this project means a reversal in how Maine sees itself. In the 20th-century, the state thought of itself at the end of the road, the end of the energy pipeline. “Today, we are at the beginning of the age of energy independence, with a tremendous world-class resource—the winds of the Gulf of Maine—literally right behind us.”
“What you hear behind you, is the sound of the future,” said Conkling, referring to the sound of the turbines.
Suzanne Pude, director of the Island Institute’s Maine Community Wind program, along with institute staff, helped plan the ribbon-cutting ceremony.
Numerous dignitaries attended, including: Gov. John Baldacci; First District Congresswoman Chellie Pingree; Speaker of the House Hannah Pingree; site land owners Bill Alcorn and Del Webster; Fox Island Cooperative General Manager Chip Farrington; Co-op board member Addison Ames; Cianbro CEO Peter Vigue; Horace A. Hildreth, CEO of Diversified Communications; Jack Sullivan, of General Electric; Joseph S. Badin of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Rural Development Division; and Island Institute President Philip Conkling. George Baker, CEO of Fox Islands Wind LLC, which oversaw the project, was the master of ceremonies.
Some neighbors have complained about the impact of the sound from the turbines on their lives.
According to Baker, a number of households near the project are bothered by the sound. Baker and board members from the co-op and Fox Islands Wind attended a neighborhood meeting on November 15 to listen to concerns. The co-op also held a board meeting on November 17, attended by neighbors, to talk about the sound issue. On November 18, Baker and engineers from a company based in Cambridge, Mass. began setting up microphones to measure the sound from the turbines. “We’re going to go well beyond DEP-compliance protocol in terms of the measurements we will do to address the specific concerns of the neighbors,” Baker said.
“Ultimately this will be a process that will be worked through the community, because this is a community issue. The neighbors concerns are real,” Baker said. “We don’t yet know how they will relate to the actual quantitative data that we might collect.”
Baker said everyone agrees that it will take several months of measurements to fully understand the problem. “The neighbors are, by and large, comfortable with that,” he said. “I think they trust and believe that we are working on this problem and will do a good job of figuring out what the problem is, and what can be done about it.”
Students take part
The most entertaining part of the ceremony was when students from the North Haven Community School performed a song they wrote, “I’m a Great Big Turbine,” to the tune of “I’m a Little Teapot.” Dressed as wind turbines, third- and fourth-grade students Peyton Cooper, Sean Haskell, Mikael Stone, Macy Goodell and Shyanne Waterman danced and sang. High school students Cody Joyce, Leta Hallowell, Abi Campbell, Erin Cooper and Mallory Brown also sang.
Students from the Vinalhaven School talked about what this project means to them. “Our new life with wind energy, will help us see our island in a new way,” said Byron Thomas. “It will be a community-changing experience, that makes people proud to be here, proud to be part of this island community.”
Eliza Drury, John Morton and Blake Reidy read short statements from classmates at the Vinalhaven School. Many were funny, such as one student who compared the turbines to Transformers. Others were more serious, such as this statement, “Lastly, we feel that Jen Guptil speaks for all of us when she says, ‘I would like to be part of the grand opening of this project, as a part of the younger generation who would like an island to come home to someday.'”