Fox Islands Wind LLC (Fox Islands Wind) is developing the $14 million Vinalhaven wind project. The project may be operational by October 2009. Vinalhaven and North Haven Island residents, customers of Fox Islands Electric Cooperative Inc., will halve the amount of electricity they now purchase and import from the mainland, will sell more than 5,000 megawatt-hours back to the grid each year and will see their power rates drop and stabilize. Residents will be able to save $500,000 a year on power.

If this is successful, I think it’s just going to have a gigantic effect on the whole area, Fox Islands Wind Chief Executive Officer George Baker said.

I believe this is going to be a demonstration project for island and coastal communities throughout the whole region, Baker said.

It sounds pretty good, Baker said.

The project has been supported by islanders in a vote in July 2008.

We’ve been working incredibly closely with the community, Baker said.

As per Baker, community involvement was key to the success of similar projects which might pop up along the coast. Other reasons for the popularity of the Vinalhaven project include the fact that as much power as possible will be used locally, the benefits are delivered in the form of electricity prices, and the costs and benefits are co-located, Baker said.

An island is a perfect way to isolate the costs and the benefits, Baker said. To do that on the mainland, you have to think creatively.

Baker also suggested that any community considering a wind project include both seasonal and year-round residents in the planning, be very clear about financial risks and consequences, and spend as little money as possible on an early feasibility study.

I believe that if you don’t do this, you’re going to run into more problems down the road than you can possibly imagine, Baker said.

Baker spoke enthusiastically about the Vinalhaven project’s innovative funding sources, which include a mixture of cheap money borrowed from the Rural Utilities Service and up to $5 million from a family-owned Maine company, which Baker did not identify, that in return will get a federal tax benefit for 10 years. The company technically will own Fox Island Wind’s assets, Baker said, but after 10 years ownership will revert to the co-op.

We will be completely insulated to what happens within energy markets, Baker said.

I’m a big supporter, said Mark Hurvitt of Blue Hill, who also is superintendent of schools on Vinalhaven. Adults are hedging about this. Kids are all fired up.

Wind seems like a really likely sustainable resource for our community, she said.