Star Island residents and proprietors are proud of the fact that this 43-acre island off the New Hampshire/Maine coastline has remained relatively unchanged for the last 100 years. Visitors find the second largest island in the region, and the number one tourist destination, rustic and quaint but still require “modern” conveniences like electricity and wasterwater services.
The reverse osmosis plant that daily converts 6,000 gallons of ocean salt water to usable fresh water sucks up over 20 percent of the electricity on the island, so finding a reliable, affordable energy source was imperative for the island.
That’s what lead a committee comprised of the island’s maintenance personnel to investigate renewable energy as a way to decrease its dependence on the costly diesel generators which currently supply the island’s energy needs.
The search actually began back in 2005 with an eye on wind turbines as the possible solution, but a team from the University of Massachusetts Amherst discovered through feasibility studies that while wind was ample in the winter, during peak demand (summer months), it would be unable to support the island.
That brought the search around to solar last spring, which has become a fantastic alternative to the cumbersome and expensive diesel generators.
The multi-million dollar solar photovoltaic (PV) array will be constructed behind a granite ridge on the island, the perfect location for the system to capture maximum sunlight while remaining hidden from visitors who value the pristine views Star Island affords and might not necessarily want to see the panels.
“We are spending enough money on energy costs now that although the initial start up costs are high, we expect it to be an excellent investment for the future,” Victoria Hardy, CEO of the Star Island Corporation, said.
Experts believe that the solar array will make the island completely energy independent, but one diesel generator will remain in place on the island in case of extended periods of bad weather or for emergencies.
Island managers are thrilled to be getting rid of their reliance on fossil fuels and report that on average, the island spends nearly $100,000 a year on diesel. The volatile price of the fuel has made operations difficult, but with no other alternative previously, the island was stuck.
Part of the reason the diesel costs have been so high for Star Island over the years is the regulatory oversight required to bring the fuel to the 3 existing island generators. It must be regularly pumped uphill from a barge to a 5,000-gallon holding tank.
“We are paying 75 cents a kilowatt hour while mainland users pay 14 cents,” Star Island facilities superintendent Jack Farrell said. “[With solar] we have a real opportunity to stabilize our energy costs while also reducing our carbon footprint, it’s a great opportunity.”