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Can Maine Follow Denmark to Energy Independence?

Visitors from small islands off the coast of Maine traveled to Samsø, a larger island off the coast of Denmark, to learn how to emulate its transformation into a model of renewable energy.
January 20, 2015, 8am PST | Irvin Dawid
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Samsø, a  44-square-mile island off the Danish coast of 4,100 inhabitants largely devoted to agriculture, has won international acclaim since 1997 when it won "a government-sponsored contest to create a model community for renewable energy," writes New York Times business reporter, Diane Cardwell. Eight years later, "the island reached green energy independence."

Inspiring the visitors from Maine, including those from the one-square mile island of Monhegan, population 65 that "swells to hundreds of residents and thousands of tourists in the summer," may have been more economic as opposed to environmental goals, in particular its "dependence on expensive, dirty fuels for heating and electricity."

Even with the recent fall in oil prices, Monhegan residents pay among the highest power rates in the nation — almost six times the national average — and the electric company, locally owned and operated, struggles to keep the lights on.

Unlike the much larger island of Samsø, the Maine islands are not connected to the mainland via power cables, though now the cable from Samsø works both ways as it sells its excess renewable power. The Maine islands must be truly self-sufficient for electricity and heating.

The Maine visitors, including students from the College of the Atlantic in Bar Harbor, were attending the Samsø Energy Academy. "If all went well, each islander would go home with a team of students dedicated to solving an energy problem using ideas borrowed from Samsø," writes Cardwell.

According to the Rocky Mountain Institute (via Clean Technica), Samsø is 100 percent wind-powered from "eleven onshore wind turbines (that) provide 11 megawatts of power [PDF]." Heat is supplied from geothermalbiomass, and solar power sources.

And 10 offshore wind turbines produce 23 megawatts, enough to compensate for the carbon dioxide emissions generated by the island’s transport sector. This was all accomplished within eight years, two years ahead of schedule.

"There are not yet any full-scale offshore wind farms in the United States — projects like Cape Wind near Nantucket have been delayed by legal and financial challenges — so the Mainers were eager for a rare chance to see one up close," writes Cardwell.

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Published on Saturday, January 17, 2015 in The New York Times
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