Monhegan island electricity grid updates

Residents of the Maine island of Monhegan will soon benefit from upgraded electricity infrastructure, thanks to a grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Supplying electricity and other forms of energy on remote islands offers a unique set of challenges. For islands too far from the mainland grid to be connected by undersea transmission cables, island utilities must both produce the power and distribute it to homes and businesses. On small, remote islands, the lack of economies of scale can lead to very high electricity costs. About 12 miles offshore, Monhegan one of those islands. In recent years, customers served by the Monhegan Plantation Power District have paid electricity prices about 5 times higher than those on the mainland.

Propane tanks sit by the dock on Monhegan Island, Maine.Yesterday the U.S. Department of Agriculture announced that the Monhegan Plantation Power District has won $420,154 from the USDA's High Energy Cost Grant Program. That program provides competitively-awarded grants to improve and provide energy generation, transmission and distribution facilities serving communities with average home energy costs exceeding 275% of the national average. Grant funds may be used for on-grid and off-grid renewable energy projects, energy efficiency and energy conservation projects serving eligible communities.

On Monhegan, the grant will be used to replace the current switchgear, add a smaller, 40 kW generator to the power station's fleet, and add a 13 kW solar photovoltaic array to the power station's roof. Currently, electricity is provided to about 100 accounts on Monhegan from a 300 kW diesel generator. Demand for electricity on Monhegan varies seasonally, with many fewer consumers on the island during the winter months. The new 40 kW generator and solar array are expected to be able to cover the winter load more efficiently than using the existing larger generator.

While Monhegan typifies the remote, inhabited small island, other islands face similar energy challenges. Will Monhegan serve as an example for other island communities?