Island residents leading way to self-sufficiency

Posted Nov. 09, 2008, at 9:52 p.m.
Last modified March 20, 2011, at 6:16 a.m.

BELFAST, Maine — Island residents are finding solutions to the high energy prices that threaten to make Maine’s coastal islands uninhabitable, Rob Snyder, vice president of programs at the Island Institute, said at Saturday’s Sustainable Living Conference.

“Many of Maine’s islands are leading the way in siting wind power off our shores,” Snyder told about 150 people attending the gathering Saturday at the University of Maine Hutchinson Center.

“When the geographic problems of isolation are overcome, these solutions will become models for our state and for our country,” Snyder said.

The conference is an opportunity for residents of Maine’s unbridged, year-round islands to visit with one another and exchange ideas.

Conference goals included learning about sustainable goods and services available to individuals and communities in Maine and hearing from local, regional and international experts about what can be done to guarantee a more sustainable lifestyle in the future.

Guest speakers included Soren Hermansen, director of the Samso Energy Academy on Denmark’s renewable energy island; Eliot Coleman and his wife, Barbara Damrosch, authors and co-owners of Four Season Farm, a nationally recognized model of small-scale sustainable agriculture in Harborside; and Russell Libby, executive director of the Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association in Unity.

“We have the responsibility of creating history,” Sorensen said of his country’s 40-square-mile island. “We can make small communities look like small nations,” he said, adding that Samso Island residents have started living independent of importing energy.

During the 1973 oil crisis Samso islanders began thinking about giving up fossil fuel dependence. At first, nuclear power looked like a good option until the islanders studied the accident at the Three-Mile Island plant in Pennsylvania in 1979 and rejected nuclear power.

In 1997, the Samso islanders accepted a challenge from Denmark’s government to lead their lives in an entirely energy self-sufficient and carbon-neutral way by converting from oil and electricity as heat sources to wind energy, said Hermansen. The government required utilities to offer 10-year, fixed-rate contracts for wind power to sell to customers elsewhere, Hermansen said. The turbines repay a shareholder’s investment in eight years, he said.

The islanders built wind turbines and sold shares in them to themselves. The machines produce power and profits to everyone who invested in them.

They burn locally grown straw in central plants to produce hot water and pump it through underground pipes into residents’ homes, he said.

The project became so successful that the island installed turbines offshore to make surplus power to sell to the mainland. Now the island produces 10 percent more energy than its residents use each year, said Hermansen, who spearheaded these efforts.

Samso Island and Hermansen were the subjects of an article in the July 7 issue of The New Yorker.

One of the energy workshops at Saturday’s conference featured George Baker, a Harvard University professor who has advised the Fox Islands Electric Cooperative about the North Haven and Vinalhaven wind project.

Speakers Eliot Coleman and Barbara Damrosch told the conference how they overcome the standard gardening calendar and grow vegetables in the winter. The proof is in the vegetables they have harvested at their Harborside home every day of the year for the past eight years.

Coleman has nearly 40 years of experience in all aspects of organic farming, including field vegetables, greenhouse vegetables, rotational grazing of cattle and sheep, and range poultry, citing examples of northern New England farms he has managed, including one in Vermont.

Damrosch has worked professionally in the field of horticulture since 1977. She writes a weekly gardening column for The Washington Post. The couple has written several books, including “Garden Primer” and “Winter Harvest Manual.”

For more information and to soon access the text of the books go to www.islandinstitute.org/silconference.

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