Thursday, March 12, 2009

Soren Hermansen and Maine

I did go to see Soren Hermansen from Samso, Denmark, at the University of Maine yesterday as I said I would.

It's a pity that this tour came during our spring break and the University's, because students could use to hear this guy. But never mind.

He's a funny and positive speaker, and engaged the crowd with anecdotes and witticisms.

The upshot was, this island is one big community wind power scheme. With a community combined heat and power scheme thrown in. They use onshore wind to produce enough electricity for their own consumption, then use offshore turbines to make enough to zero out the carbon they make running transportation. They have district heat systems pumping hot water to a large number of households, using biomass from farm residues, mostly straw of which they have a lot. The wind turbines and power stations are built using a combination of small private local investors, investors from the mainland, banks, and the Danish government. The government contribution seems to be $10 million out of $75 million -- not out of the question here given the current stimulus package and tax breaks. The whole scheme appears quite popular, at least from his reports. I questioned him on this. He mentioned that there are anti-wind activists in Denmark too, but that the community was behind this scheme. He gave advice as to how to put the negative impacts of turbines into perspective.

We could definitely take advantage of all of the same systems and ideas here in Maine.

The main priority would be to get communities working together on these kinds of schemes. This is why the current community wind schemes we are involved with here at Unity College, the Peaks Island and Mount View High School schemes are so important, as well as the Fox Islands Electrical Cooperative's wind power scheme, and the Cranberry Islands Sustainability group we met with last year. These nascent programs are paving the way towards community-based energy in the state of Maine, proving it can be done.

In the most recent case, the Towns of Dixmont and Jackson where anti-wind activists are winding up to oppose a commercial installation, were we instead to use the Samso model, Unity College could measure the wind for the Town of Jackson using our equipment and provide them with a report detailing the production capabilities of a grid-scale turbine installation on the land that the Town owns but that the commercial firm wants to lease for turbines. This report is then used for planning and finance finance. The Town could put up the turbine, either as part of the proposed commercial scheme, or independently. The Town could then harvest the power and profits, and put it all to good use.

District heat from combined heat and power plants using wood biomass would not work well in widely scattered communities like Dixmont or Jackson, but it would work well in towns like Unity or Brooks.

Some of our anti-wind activists would have to change their minds first, though, or what is more likely, lose some votes in town meetings, before this kind of vision might come about. I don't think Mainers are generally against wind power, so I don't think anti-wind can ultimately prevail politically, although they can win a battle here and there. When they lose the war, I'd hate to see the playing field ceded entirely to commercial firms by default, though, too, wind turbines plastered everywhere, and Waldo County become an energy colony for the rest of New England.

Community-ownership is the reasonable middle ground in all of this.

1 comment:

Steve said...

I also attended this very informative day long symposium and agree with what you say. Community based wind power makes sense.

Soren told me that electrical generation is about 25% of total energy use on the island, which is more than the 13% here in the US. Transportation MPG costs are lower due to much more fuel efficient smaller cars and trucks, and there is not the need for industrial transportation like we have here with trucks and trains. Central heating with biomass and solar is a neat idea, as is biomass gasification electrical generation using renewable forestry and agriculture. One of the biggest changes they made in Samso was to first reduce overall energy consumption by 20% through insulation, conscious efforts at conservation, and "no car" Sundays.

The tactics of the wind industry combined with shoddy legislation have ruined on shore wind's chances for widespread adoption by communities targeted for wind in Maine. Noise ordinances are too lax, and not enough consideration is given to the scenic values that Maine has spent decades trying to protect.

I spent a long time talking to Habib Dagher. He agreed that land based wind has far less potential than off shore wind and creates numerous problems. I agreed to support his efforts to explore offshore wind and he agreed to oppose the continued deployment of land based turbines in Maine's mountain communities. Soren was part of this conversation and agreed that Big Wind is not the answer.