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Monhegan Island Light Station. | Photo by Emerson Reiter, NREL

FAST FACTS

- EERE's Energy Transitions Initiative (ETI) provides a proven framework and technical resources and tools to help islands, states, and cities transition to a clean energy economy and achieve their clean energy goals.

- With the Island Institute, ETI is examining how clean energy solutions could support the sustainability goals of two island communities off the coast of Maine: Isle au Haut and Monhegan.

- Technical experts from the National Renewable Energy Laboratory visited both islands in mid-July and will deliver the results of their analyses soon.

 

Learn more about the Energy Transitions Initiative.

Most island communities do not have economies of scale or local fossil fuel resources, two key factors contributing to significant increases in energy costs relative to mainland peers. A case in point is two islands located off the coast of Maine—Isle au Haut and Monhegan, both of which are currently weighing their energy futures. The Energy Department and EERE are helping to address those challenges through the Energy Transitions Initiative (ETI), which provides technical assistance and resources to support communities that want to achieve clean energy goals and in the transition to a clean energy economy.

Through conversations with the Island Institute, which has worked to sustain Maine's island and coastal communities since 1983, I learned a bit about Monhegan and Isle au Haut, and that they share the challenges that many islands face in ensuring a reliable and affordable power supply, such as access to fuel and replacement parts. Isle au Haut, in particular, gets electricity via an undersea cable that is three years past its intended lifespan. Should it fail, the island will rely entirely on a diesel generator for power. Mid-winter breakdowns might not get repaired for a week or more, so the resilience of the system and redundancy in the controls or equipment is critically important as they transition to cleaner energy sources.

Monhegan Island has a year-round population of 75 people, according to the latest census. Electricity on the island runs entirely off of diesel generators and its residents charter a special boat for fuel deliveries. This causes a high electricity price on the island, encouraging the residents to explore local renewable resources as more sustainable alternatives to high-cost imported fuels.

The Island Institute, which has been working in these communities for more than 30 years, has already developed solutions to some of these energy issues. Their “Weatherization Weeks,” where neighbors pool together a few residential retrofit projects at a time to reduce the transaction costs of each one, are estimated to have saved participating communities more than $2 million to date. On Monhegan, nearly 90% of homes have received energy assessments, basic air sealing, and insulation work through Weatherization Weeks.

 

Isle au Haut community meeting with the ETI team. | Photo from the Island Institute

The ETI approach also relies on community engagement, and includes visiting a community to help assess its energy situation and then analyzing future energy options with local input. Working with the Island Institute, a small team of technical experts from the Energy Department's National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) arrived on the two islands in mid-July 2016 to gather the energy data needed for this process. During their visit, the team also held a town hall meeting on each island about its energy future.

A key reason for ETI's involvement in Maine’s island communities is to broaden the program's perspective. First, when most people say "islands," they automatically think tropical, where different climates present different energy needs. Second, we typically think about utility partners with staff numbers in the dozens or even hundreds, whose solutions—like utility-led energy efficiency programs or on-bill repayment—just don’t apply when the utility staff consists of one or two full-time employees.

So by working with the Island Institute to identify sustainable and affordable energy solutions for these communities in Maine, they will help us learn how to better achieve EERE’s mission to create the clean energy economy. EERE is also collaborating with the Institute through the WINDExchange Program, which is funding the Islanded Grid Resource Center, a partnership with the Renewable Energy Alaska Project.

The NREL team will soon have analyses ready for Isle au Haut and Monhegan, and I'll be updating you with the news when we return to Maine.