Cutting the green ribbon before one of the three new wind turbines on Vinalhaven. From left to right: North Haven third and fourth graders, Rep. Hannah Pingree, Governor John Baldacci, Congresswoman Chellie Pingree, Bill Alcorn, Del Webster and Addison Ames
Cutting the green ribbon before one of the three new wind turbines on Vinalhaven. From left to right: North Haven third and fourth graders, Rep. Hannah Pingree, Governor John Baldacci, Congresswoman Chellie Pingree, Bill Alcorn, Del Webster and Addison Ames
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Pinwheels, both large and small, were the order of the day when a large crowd of approximately 450 people gathered to inaugurate Vinalhaven's three new wind turbines on Tuesday, November 17. The celebration was the culmination of a summer-long construction project by Cianbro Corporation to build the largest coastal wind facility in New England and the second largest along the east coast.

Islanders and visitors milled about in the sunshine while two of the three turbines whirled overhead in 20-mile-per-hour northwesterly breezes. George Baker, president of Fox Islands Wind LLC, a subsidiary of the Fox Islands Electric Cooperative, congratulated all the many partners in the project, from the Island Institute, EOS Ventures and General Electric to the many island residents who moved the project forward, among them Bill Alcorn, Del Webster and Addison Ames. The three men joined Governor John Baldacci, North Haven representative and Speaker of the Maine House of Representative Hannah Pingree, Congresswoman Chellie Pingree and children from the North Haven and Vinalhaven schools to cut the green ribbon stretched before the towering wind turbine.

Governor Baldacci then addressed the crowd. "This just reminds me of the Statue of Liberty," he said, gesturing toward the 263-foot-tall turbine. "It's energy independence." Baldacci congratulated the residents of the two islands for their support of the project. "You are at the forefront of renewable energy. You've made the investment because you know this is where your future lies," he said. Baldacci also noted that energy independence has become an issue of national security, one that influences the United States' actions throughout the world.

Congresswoman Chellie Pingree said she was proud to represent Maine in the U.S. House of Representatives in part because of the success of this project. "I get to go back to Washington tonight, where my colleagues are bickering about the energy bill, about whether we can really have renewable energy, and we have done it. The people of this community have worked so hard to deal with the logistical, technical and financial questions to get renewable energy. How much more proud could I be?" she said to the applauding crowd.

Hannah Pingree, who followed her mother at the podium, noted that this was the largest gathering of North Haven and Vinalhaven people she had ever witnessed, "bigger than any basketball game." She too complimented island residents for their willingness to embark on the $14.5 million project, which will meet the annual electricity needs of both islands. "It's a huge step toward the sustainability of our islands as year-round communities," Pingree said. "This project is only the beginning. I am very, very proud."

Mallory Brown, a senior at North Haven Community School, spoke briefly of the many renewable energy actions taken by students and residents on that island. She then introduced students from the third and fourth grade classes who performed a spirited rendition of "I'm a Great Big Turbine" to the tune of "I'm a Little Teapot" while decorated as turbine blades and a nacelle.

Deb McNeil, representing Senator Olympia Snowe, and Michelle Michaud, representing Senator Susan Collins, each read a congratulatory letter from the respective Senators, who could not attend the ceremony in person.

Rural Utilities Service (RUS) Electric Program director Joseph Badin spoke about his office's involvement financing the project. "This was an occasion to help a community do the right thing," he said. RUS provides low-interest loans for electricity projects in rural and underserved communities through the Department of Agriculture. The RUS provided a $9.5 million loan to Fox Islands Wind for the project, followed by an additional $500,000 loan to cover additional costs. "Now it will be delivering dependable, clean power. This is an excellent example of how to bring electricity to rural communities," Badin said.

Cianbro Corporation chief executive officer Peter Vigue was delighted by the large turnout for the ceremony. "Thank you all for doing this," he said, waving his arm toward the large tent beneath which a lunch was later served. "We don't take the time to celebrate our successes often enough."

Vigue noted that just seven months ago the project had not received any of the necessary state permits, had not locked up its financing and hadn't contracted for the purchase of the turbines. "The naysayers said that this would never happen in 2009. So it's a testimony to what you can do when you work together toward common goals," Vigue said. He complimented Fox Islands Wind director George Baker for his exceptional enthusiasm and energy. "And thank you to the island residents for your exceptional hospitality," he said.

Island Institute president Philip Conkling noted that the wind turbines harken back to an earlier century, when wind was the power that sent Maine ships throughout the world. "Here we are at the beginning of the 21st century turning back to the wind. [Those turbines] are the sound of the future," Conkling said. He said that in past years Maine felt that it was at the end of the line and at the end of the world due to its far northern location. "Now we are at the beginning of energy independence. We have the Gulf of Maine [wind power] right behind us," Conkling said.

At the close of many speeches, the crowd gathered around the base of the turbine for a group photograph. Raising tiny colored pinwheels over their heads, the mass of people cried "wind power" as dozens of shutters clicked.