Island energy conference expands reach, honors Vinalhaven club
Rockland — The Island Institute’s third annual Island Energy Conference on Friday and Saturday, Nov. 2 and 3, provided opportunities for New England island leaders to discuss their common energy challenges and to learn more about the resources available to address the energy-related issues in their communities. The conference also highlighted the work of one Maine island’s work to raise community awareness of and participation in energy-saving activities.
Several workshops on Nov. 2 in Rockland, facilitated by local, regional, national — and even international — experts, offered information on a wide range of topics. There was something for everyone: Driving Change with Data, Innovation on Diesel Islands, Efficient Island Transportation, Solar PV Incentives, Efficient Island Buildings, Preparing for Your Island Energy Project and Incentives for Energy Savings gave participants the most current information available from experts in the field. Other sessions — Island Energy Projects from Away and On the Horizon? Updates on Offshore Wind — provided opportunities for networking and sharing of the latest energy news from up and down the East Coast and around the world. On Nov. 3, conference attendees made the ferry trip to Vinalhaven for a tour of the Fox Islands community wind project and to engage in hands-on training in interior storm window insert-building and home energy efficiency.
One component of the 2012 conference was the presentation of the Institute’s first Island Energy Innovation Award to the Vinalhaven Energy Club. The goal of this new recognition event is to celebrate the successes in island energy work by presenting an award to a group or project that has made a significant difference in addressing energy costs on an island during the past year. The institute selected the Vinalhaven Energy Club as the recipient of the inaugural award for its growing commitment to community-based energy action on Vinalhaven and, in particular, for the group’s efforts to increase home energy efficiency through developing a transferable/replicable model (Weatherization Week) that will be implemented in a host of island communities this winter.
Karol Kucinski, co-founder of the Energy Club, gave all the credit for the past year’s success to the enthusiasm of the other club members, and the willingness of the community to try new energy-saving strategies, adding that, “We like to have fun and help our neighbors, too.”
Another conference highlight was participation by community members from New England six diesel-powered islands (Block Island, R.I.; Cuttyhunk, Mass.; Naushon, Mass.; Star Island, N.H.; Monhegan and Matinicus) together for the first time to discuss common challenges and highlight the progress being made on some islands to reduce fuel usage. The diesel-powered islands represented pay some of the highest electricity costs in the nation (ranging from to 60 cents to $1 per kilowatt hour) and are increasingly looking to community-scale solar and wind projects, as well as efficiency projects, as strategies to lower costs. Experts from the National Renewable Energy Lab weighed in on this discussion and are committed to supporting these efforts going forward.
Suzanne MacDonald, the institute’s community energy director, was encouraged by the growing number of attendees — up from 18 in 2011 to almost 60 this year — as well as by the increasing number of partnering organizations that responded to her request for assistance with the workshops. The National Renewable Energy Laboratory, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Efficiency Maine, the Maine Public Utilities Commission and the Maine Department of Environmental Protection were among the many agencies, organizations and individuals who stepped forward to make the conference a success.
“As more island communities along the East Coast take their energy futures into their own hands, we’re seeing an increase in requests for ways that they can learn and share the latest solutions to their unique energy challenges,” she said as the conference wound down on Saturday afternoon. “It’s really gratifying to have the resources available from so many of our organizational partners — both here in Maine and around the world — to help move these local initiatives forward.”