MONHEGAN PLANTATION — The prospect of 50 floating wind turbines off the shores of this tranquil island, known for its art, hiking trails and dramatic black rock cliffs, has residents concerned.
Worse, said resident Tara Hire, it has many folks feeling they can’t have a voice in decisions that may lead to that floating wind farm. The price of that disengagement is high, she believes, and urgency is needed: a public comment period closes Dec. 20.
Hire, the town’s first assessor, is heading up a task force along with fellow islander Marian Chioffi. Chioffi is bookkeeper for the Monhegan Plantation Power District.
The Monhegan Energy Task Force aims to be a liaison between islanders and the Maine Aqua Ventus project, which is proposed by a consortium calling itself Maine Prime Technologies which includes the University of Maine, Cianbro Corp. and Emera.
Pending federal Department of Energy and private funding, the consortium wants to site two test turbines about 2-1/2 miles from shore in 2015. If the turbines perform well, a full build-out would come in the 2020s, according to UMaine’s Jake Ward.
As with many such projects, there are both potential benefits and impacts.
On the benefit side, the island would receive electricity at a cost of about 30 cents per kilowatt hour, less than half the current rate of 70 cents (which is the highest in the nation) for 20 years, up to a total of 340 megawatt hours per year. The 30 cents represents transmission costs only and would be paid to the Monhegan Plantation Power District. The consortium also promises to run fiber optic cable to the island, thereby bringing high-speed Internet with it.
But for an island dependent on tourism, and specifically, tourism related to tranquility and the quiet enjoyment of nature, the prospect of whooshing wind turbines, flashing lights and a grid of 400-foot tall towers floating off the shore brings risk.
“People come to Monhegan for a certain reason,” Hire said. “We’re really very concerned about tourism.”
Although the towers would be visible from many parts of the shore and especially from the southern shore, residents seem to be concerned about sound.
“The visuals aren’t a worry to the people right now as much as the sounds,” Hire said. “Sound on the water is different than sound on the land.”
The task force formed last month and has met a few times. On Dec. 4, the Maine Public Utilities Commission posted its term sheet outlining the contract with Maine Aqua Ventus and Central Maine Power for the two test turbines.
The PUC also agreed in the contract to levy a surcharge on CMP bills to subsidize the research and development of the floating wind project.
The deadline for public comment on that contract is Dec. 20, and Hire is eager for Monhegan residents, and those who own summer homes or visit the island, to review it and register their opinions.
“We’ve been working really hard to create outreach,” she said, particularly trying to reach summer folks. “Thousands of people come to Monhegan in the summer time.”
So far, there has not been an outcry from either residents or visitors.
“A lot of people are apathetic,” Hire said, or perhaps feel they will have no voice in the matter and that decisions will be made by those far from the island.
The task force is not opposing or supporting the wind project, but rather acting as a liaison between islanders and the PUC and the consortium, Hire said.
“Our official mission is the gather information and disseminate it,” she said. “Our mission is to protect Monhegan, no matter what.”
At the 2014 annual town meeting in April, a vote may be taken to gauge resident sentiment, she said.