Catching Energy Island Spirits

samso-island-denmark
50 Meter tall wind turbines off the coast of Samso Island, Denmark. (Photographer Unknown)

Soren Hermansen approaches the stage.  He is a tall, middle aged man with a European accent that slightly resembles Steve Jobs.  He begins his lecture by telling us a little about his Island in the middle of Denmark called Samso Island.  He also pointed out that his name in Danish is Søren, where in the ‘ø’ is the single letter in Danish which means island. He is here in Maine to talk about sustainable energy in island communities.  If you think your electric bill is rough, island residents in Maine pay between 2 and 4 times the main land rate.  The point that Soren is trying to drive home is that islands make a great location to harvest abundant sustained winds and by doing so, Maine island residents could not only generate all of their own power but also sell some back to the main land to create a negative carbon footprint.

Wind turbines are the perfect example of easier said then done. There is a lot of investigation that needs to be done to protect the interests of all parties involved.  On Samso Island there was a two year study done to determine potential negative impact on the local bird refuge. There was also a lot consideration and resulting financial compensation to fishermen who stood to lose fishing area. That’s two years of work with out even breaking a sweat or talking to local residents to find out if they even would tolerate an off shore wind farm. Turns out they had to remove two of the four proposed locations to preserve the sunset view of north shore land owners.

There was a lot of consideration payed to everyone and because of that fact, everyone had a stake in the project.  A few of the turbines were owned by investors, some by companies, but amazingly a few were owned by citizens.  They pooled their money to by a three of the turbines, one was owned by 1000 investors after funding fell through, and another was two were split into $600 shares paid by the resident investors.

Soren Hermansen organized the efforts leading to 140% carbon reduction for Samso Island.
Soren Hermansen organized the efforts leading to 140% carbon reduction for Samso Island. (Photographer Unknown)

The main goal of this lecture was to help provide local islanders with a means to build their own energy independence.  Soren tried not to give an exact estimate of cost for the project during the QNA portion of the lecture because he wants people to investigate on their own the unique conditions of an installation. There is no one size fits all solution or price tag when it comes to these projects and citizens must ask one another what will work for them. “We had meetings. it didn’t just happen over night we had to talk about it” Says Soren about the complex diplomacy required to accomplish such a project. Real lasting change starts from the ground up, not the top down and to do that takes years of hard work with local people.

Soren also emphasised the importance of thinking and acting locally, saying “I don’t wake up and want to save a polar bear… But if I act locally eventually maybe I will.” Its all to easy he says to get wrapped up in the global issues of climate change and feel helpless.  The real solution is doing what makes sense for your community and seeing it through.

You don’t need to have millions of dollars to make change and you don’t need to be a radical green person to make change. “There are people who are so green they glow at night. Those people you don’t want to work with because you can’t live up to their standards. You’re in your car and you feel guilty when you drive home.” Soren was quick to point out that the investors were not green people, they were accountants, contractors, and dentists.  They didn’t donate millions of dollars, in fact the investors who really made the projects happen contributed as little as $600, but were part of the movement.

One man spent his retirement fund to put solar panels on his roof.  When asked why he would do such a thing he said “It’s much more fun to have my money on the roof than in the bank. Especially today.” Its that type of local mentality that makes real change happen. Its that type of mentality that catapulted Samso from 0% renewable energy in 1998 to 140% renewable energy in 2008.  They are now the leading example of how to do it.  Denmark is following in their foot steps with larger scale wind farms that make up 21% of the total power supply not to mention that Denmark is the worlds leading wind turbine manufacturer.

It’s clear that Denmark and Samso island residents made the right choice to invest when they did.  The economy is booming and they are approaching energy Independence in a time when energy prices are predicted to skyrocket.  They have invested wisely and insulated themselves from any future price shock.  Soren wondered why the United States hasn’t jumped in for it’s piece of the pie, and with the success that Denmark is having, I wonder too.

Fast Facts About Samso Island, Denmark
District solar heat provides 25% of the heat for the island residents.
The three plants now make 75
11 on shore turbines make 100% of the island residents power supply.
10 off sore turbines neutralize the carbon produced by island residents cars.
Samso Island has Cut Co2 by 140% since it started the project in 1998.
21% of all electrical power in Denmark is wind.
Denmark had car free Sundays in the seventies from high oil prices. Families would walk in the highway.

Question From The Audience:
Q: Is there fishing near the turbines or have the turbines disrupted the eco-system?
A: There is no fishing for 50 meters around the turbines to protected the underwater power cables.  Because the area is undisturbed, mussels have grown on the base of each turbine which attract fish and birds to eat the fish.  The turbines have created their own sheltered eco-systems.

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