ROCKLAND, Maine — For islanders, there are two major imports — energy and food, according to Rob Snyder, executive vice president of the Island Institute. Vinalhaven and North Haven have reduced their energy imports by building wind turbines to power the two Knox County islands, and now, with the help of a $50,000 grant, the communities will get a lesson in energy conservation, too.
The Island Institute, Time Warner Cable and school officials joined together Wednesday to unveil the program, which will allow students in the two islands’ K-12 schools to track their communities’ energy use through meters and Web products.
The pilot project, named Energy for ME, will supply students with energy meters. They will attach the meters to different buildings, such as the ferry terminals or schools, and track how much energy is used and when. The information will then be loaded onto a website.
“The kids have a good feel about how much power they can produce with wind,” said Amy Palmer, a science teacher at Vinalhaven School, citing projects she has had her students do involving wind power, “but they don’t have a good sense of how much [energy] they use.”
Palmer said the project will start in the fall of 2011, so she does not know exactly what projects she will conduct with her students, but she suspects they will graph the information transmitted to the website and perhaps try to modify energy usage. She plans to have the students find where the most energy is used on the island and during what times it is used.
“The kids are really interested. They will come up with their own questions and answer them,” Palmer said.
Barry Hallowell, the principal at North Haven Community School, said this sort of project is exactly what his school specializes in.
“This is the way that we teach on the island,” Hallowell said. “We teach through projects and things that are meaningful in the community. They end up teaching their parents and the community.”
The islands are forced to pay more for energy than most towns. Many Maine islands pay 7 percent more than the national average for electricity, Snyder said. The wind turbines on Vinalhaven drop that to about 2 percent more than the national average, but to keep energy affordable, the principal of North Haven’s school wants to teach the island children about saving the energy they make.
“We have a very, very high interest and need to make our kids aware of the cost of energy and how to reduce those costs,” Hallowell said. “These are the issues that have to be addressed. Energy is very expensive.”
Hallowell said reducing the cost of living on the islands is what might help keep people living on them. There once were about 300 year-round island communities in Maine, but now there are only 13.
“It is opportunities like this that are going to open up new areas for economic development and new ways of living,” said state Rep. Edward Mazurek, D-Rockland. “This is a step forward — good not only for islands, but for Maine and the midcoast region.”
The Energy for ME pilot project was funded by a $50,000 grant from Time Warner Cable. Aside from the meters and website, the money will also pay for a conference on the mainland where students will meet with professionals in the energy industry.
The Island Institute is a nonprofit organization that helps island communities.