July 11, 2011 - electricity on Maine's islands

Monday, July 11, 2011

For people summering or living on Maine's islands, getting electricity can be more complicated than on the mainland.  Some of Maine's largest and most populous islands like Mount Desert Island or Deer Isle are connected to mainland by both bridges and electricity cables, while more remote islands are powered by small on-island generators.  By their nature, islands can make energy questions more challenging, while also offering innovative opportunities for the right places.

The summits of Mount Desert Island loom large over the water on Great Cranberry Island, Maine.

Looking at the Maine island communities I identified last week, a number of them are part of mainland utility Central Maine Power Company's service territory.  The major Casco Bay islands -- Peaks, Great Diamond, Cliff, Long, and Great Chebeague -- all fall into this category, as does Islesboro off Lincolnville.  Residents on these islands draw their electricity from CMP's mainland grid via underwater cables; generally, they pay the same price for their electricity (both the supply of energy and the delivery service via the transmission and distribution utility) as do mainland consumers.  The Cranberry Isles off Mount Desert Island are similarly connected to Bangor Hydro-Electric's mainland distribution system at mainland prices.

Other island communities have their own utilities or districts, but remain tied to the mainland by cables.  For example, Vinalhaven and North Haven residents get their power from the Fox Islands Electric Cooperative.  These communities are connected to the mainland grid via underwater cable; until recently, they purchased power from the mainland market at 9-10 cents per kilowatt-hour, on top of which they paid transmission and distribution costs.  In 2007, those wires charges were 16.8 cents per kWh.  The subsequent development of Vinalhaven's 4.5 megawatt community-owned wind project means that Fox Islands residents now pay 27% less for their energy.

Still other island communities are so remote that they are truly islands in the electric sense: completely off the mainland grid.  Electricity on these islands tends to be expensive.  For example, the Maine Public Utilities Commission reports that on Monhegan, the average cost of energy plus delivery has been as high as 62 ¢/kWh.  These high prices are mirrored on other remote islands like Matinicus (47 ¢/kWh) and Isle au Haut (32 ¢/kWh).  With electricity prices like these on Maine islands, it is no wonder that residents consider energy efficiency and other options for using energy more wisely.

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