Trip Log: Vinalhaven and Camden Hills Regional High School

There’s a big difference between hearing about something, and experiencing it for yourself.

This is particularly true when it comes to renewable energy. On Monhegan, residents have heard all sorts of things about different types of renewable energy, particularly wind.  In 2009, a 100kW wind turbine was proposed for the island, to combat rising energy costs and lessen the environemntal impacts of energy production on the island.  In the discussions that followed this proposal, there were a lot of concern about what it would be like to live next to a wind turbine, including the noise and visual impacts, as well as the impact it would have on the migratory birds that frequent the island.  This project never came to be, but when the University of Maine proposed a floating offshore wind demonstration project 2.5 miles off the southern tip of the island, a lot of the same issues came up.

Similarly, there has been a lot of interest recently in adopting solar power on the island.  Much of this interest has been based on the fact that installed costs for PV solar arrays have dropped siginificantly in the last few years. In fact, the power company is planning to install 13kW of solar capacity on the roof of the power station, as part of a larger project.

That’s why the Monhegan Community Energy Action Team (run by Jes Stevens, Mandy Metrano, Marian Chioffi, Chris Smith, and coordinated by Ben Algeo, the author of this blog), along with the Island Institute’s Community Energy Director and co-facilitor of the Islanded Grid Resource Center Suzanne MacDonald, decided to take the Monhegan School, and a few chaperones, on a field trip to see renewable energy installations in other places, specifically Camden Hills Regional High School (CHRHS) and Vinalhaven, and learn how those projects came to be, and what affect they’ve had on the surrounding community.

Camden Hills 

The first stop on the field trip was CHRHS, which had recently installed a wind turbine, and even more recently, a solar array. The wind turbine was of particular interest to the Monhegan visitors, because it was the exact same model that was proposed for the island in 2009. The students, who had visited Monhegan’s power station earlier in the day, noted that the turbine was quieter than the diesel engines that currently provide the island with power, but that it made a “different kind of noise.”

The Northern Reliability 100 Turbine at Camden Hills Regional High School
The Northern Reliability 100kW turbine at Camden Hills Regional High School
CHRHS's Keith Rose shows Monhegan students the inside of the Camden Hills wind turbine.
CHRHS’s Keith Rose shows Monhegan students the inside of the Camden Hills wind turbine.

After visiting the turbine, the group went inside and listened to Keith Rose, the Director of Facilities at CHRHS, talk about how their solar array works.  At 155kW, the array has a larger nameplate capacity than the turbine, and it was pointed out that an installation of that size would produce more power than Monhegan could use, whereas it only produces a fraction of the power needed to run the high school.  The group also thought about why the array had to face to the south (so that it would face the sun whenever it was in the sky), and learned why Camden ultimately decided to pursue the project (falling panel prices). Keith also talked aboutthe school’s decision to adopt LED lighting.  The students compared the lights in the classroom to the lights they had in their school, which, unlike the LEDs, hum and flicker.


The next day, the group hopped on the 8:45 ferry to Vinalhaven, and when the boat landed an hour and forty-five minutes later, we headed over to the Vinalhaven School.

Getting off the ferry to Vinalhaven. Photo via Allison Gold.
Getting off the ferry to Vinalhaven. Photo via Allison Gold.

At the Vinalhaven School, the kids built their own wind turbines with Ms. Cohn’s sixth grade science class, using common household items, like pie plates, note cards, dowels, and foam.  One of the turbines worked so well it lifted a dixie cup “bucket” tied to a string!

Building Turbine at VH School
Kip and Brownell help Vinalhaven Middle School students build their own wind turbine.

After building our own turbines, we went to see the real thing. The Fox Islands Wind project, located near the center of Vinalhaven, consists of three GE 1.5 MW turbines, which supply Vinalhaven and North Haven with power, and sell it back to the mainland grid when the turbines produce more than the islands need.

One of the GE 1.5 MW Fox Islands Wind turbines.  This turbine stands 286 feet to the hub (the center of the blades).
One of the GE 1.5 MW Fox Islands Wind turbines. This turbine stands 286 feet to the hub (the center of the blades).
The auhor looks up at one of the Fox Islands Wind Turbines as Alana Flanagan, Vinalhaven School Fellow, looks on. Photo via Maddey Gates.
Vinalhaven School Fellow Alana Flanagan and the author admire one of the Fox Islands Wind turbines.  Photo via Maddey Gates.

At the wind turbine site, Suzanne MacDonald and Chip Farrington, the manager of the Fox Islands Electric Cooperative, gave everyone a rundown of how the project came to be, and some of the challenges they had to overcome.  He talked about some of the logisitical challenges that they had overcome, including having to use two cranes, one to erect the towers, and another to build that crane.  He also talked about steps they took to reduce the noise from the turbines, including modifying the blade design so that they were quieter, by mimicking the design of an owl’s wing.

The Monhegan group talked about how power is created on Monhegan, and the kids imitated the noise of the diesel generators for the group (in other words, they yelled “WHAAAAAAAABBBB” at the top of their lungs).

Monhegan and Vinalhaven students listen to Chip Farrington talk abou the Fox Islands Wind project.
Monhegan and Vinalhaven students listen to Chip Farrington talk abou the Fox Islands Wind project.

After Chip gave some background, he brought the group over to the base of one of the turbines, and opened it up.  Everyone filed in, one by one, and marveled at the switchgear and computer, and tried to peer up all the way to the top ofthe turbine.  The noise was much more significant inside the turbine, and one person remarked that it was “sort of like being inside a spaceship.”

2015-10-20 12.47.25
The computer inside the base of one of the Fox Islands Wind turbines.
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Monhegan School board member Jes Stevens admires the inside of one of the Fox Islands Wind turbines as Chip Farrington looks on.

After a quick group photo session….

Full Group at FIW

…the group headed back to the Vinalhaven School for a debrief session and one final wind activity.  In the debrief, Ms. Cohn talked through the observations that students made, some of the challenges faced by Fox Islands Wind in building the turbines, and the strategies they used to overcome those challenges.

For our last activity, we went outside and flew a kite.  Not just any old kite though, this one had ten “streamers” (they were actually caution tape) tied to the string every 10 – 15 feet. Once the kite was up in the air, the kids made observations about how the different streamers were moving at different heights.  They noticed that the higher streamers were pulled out in a straight line, whereas the lower ones would droop peroidically as the wind dropped.  This demonstrated why wind turbines need to be so high above the ground: the wind is stronger, and more consistent.

For more on this activity, visit:

The author running a test flight of the streamer kite on Beech Hill, two days before the trip.
The author running a test flight of the streamer kite on Beech Hill, two days before the trip.

That ended the wind portion of the trip, and the Vinalhaven students had to go to their next class.  However, the Monhegan group still had a few other places to go.  The stop was at the Ivan Calderwood Homestead, an elder care facility on the island with a solar installation. The group gathered behind the building, next to the panels, and talked to residents Maddy Hildings, Roy Heisler, Priscilla Rosen, and Barbara Davis about how energy has changed on the island during their lifetimes.  The residents talked about how they used to have “hour power”, where they’d have an hour of power, and then North Haven would have an hour, how the power station used to be down on the harbor, and some of the controversy that arose when a submarine cable was installed.  We also discussed solar technology, and Del Webster talked about why he decided to install solar there.  He als talked about some of the energy efficiency work done at the building.

Kids at Elder Care Solar Panel
Arielle and Brownell play under the solar panels at the Ivan Claderwood Homestead
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Vinalhaven Elder Care Fellow Maddey Gates introduces some of the Ivan Calderwood Homestead residents to the Monhegan group.

After the visit to the elder care facility, the group took a trip to the Vinalhaven Historical Society, where we saw exhibits on Vinalhaven’s mining industry, the old school, and a whole lot more.  Finally, the last stop of the day was the island’s infamous candy store, the Vinalhaven Candy Company.  With the kids all hopped up on sugar, we got on the last boat to Rockland, made thank you cards, and played Ninja on the top deck.

Thanks to everyone involved, it was a great trip!


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