On September 18, the Sea Princess left Northeast Harbor with passengers bound for a celebration. She was accompanied by lobster boats laden with guests and beverages, all headed to Little Cranberry Isle. The fine September weather was very different from the first visit Katrina Oesterby paid to the Cranberry Isles Fishermen’s Co-op eighteen months ago. A College of the Atlantic (COA) student, Oesterby was part of the Solar Analysis Feasibility Study undertaken for the Co-op by the school in conjunction with the U.S. Department of Agriculture back in 2017.
The effort began several years ago when Co-op staff member Jonathan Parton approached co-op manager Mark Nighman. “We have all this roof. Why aren’t we solar powered?” Parton asked. Nighman’s told Parton to find out more about the costs for such a system. Working with an associate at the College of Atlantic, Parton was able to present Nighman and the Co-op board of directors with the Solar Analysis Feasibility Study from COA’s Community Energy Center. The USDA’s Rural Energy for America Program provided grant funding to get the project rolling.
Ultimately three other organizations stepped in to offer advice and financial support for the project, which was designed to save the Co-op $9,000 per year in electricity costs. Climate to Thrive, a non-profit organization dedicated to making Mount Desert Island energy independent by 2030, was able to offer advice and guidance on the design of the solar array while The Island Institute and Bar Harbor Bank and Trust provided financial support through a seven-year loan plan equal to the Co-op’s current monthly electrical costs. Searsport-based Sun Dog Solar did the installation of 144 panels on five roof surfaces this spring. The array will collect enough energy from the sun to produce 5200 kilowatts of energy per year. The Co-op expects to repay the loan in seven or eight years, saving $370,000 in electricity costs over the life of the panels.
On that warm Wednesday afternoon, representatives from these organizations as well as staff from Maine’s Congressional delegation gathered to eat lobster rolls and home-baked treats and to celebrate the solar panels now glinting in the sun. “This project proves lobstermen care just as deeply about the future of our oceans and our world as environmentalists,” said Morgan Pottle from Rep. Jared Golden’s office. Stephanie MacLagen praised the Co-op for being “leaders in the industry and the community by their willingness to innovate and to secure their own future.”
Standing in the bright sunshine Nighman exclaimed, “This is a great day to make energy!” Kevin Boggs of the USDA’s Rural Energy for America Program noted, “When rural America thrives, all of America thrives.”.
Riding home aboard the F/V Alison Ann, Luke Holden, whose company, Luke’s Lobster, is a partner with the Cranberry Isles Co-op, spoke thoughtfully. “This is the most progressive Co-op. Their fishermen are out in front of the issues. They are a forward-thinking, passionate group of fishermen. They innovate how they manage their business and how to compete in the business world. I expect them to take their profits [from electricity savings] and invest them in the industry, leading through opportunity,” he said.
Parton agreed. “The fishermen are the ones who made it happen. They are the ones who said yes.”