The Island Institute held its eighth annual Island Energy Conference in South Portland on May 4th, bringing together energy experts and island leaders from Maine, New England, and around the world to discuss common energy challenges and share solutions. This year’s theme, “Resilient Together,” highlighted what islanders are doing to increase the resilience of their energy systems and communities in the face of an increasingly unpredictable world.
“With the devastating effects of hurricanes and storm events hitting hard in island and coastal
communities around the world, these places are among the first to feel the effects of a disrupted climate, but they have also found themselves on the frontlines of the clean energy revolution,” said Suzanne MacDonald, community development officer with the Island Institute. “In the face of their common challenges, local leaders are exchanging ideas and engaging in experiences that help to further their own sustainability, and as a result, they are developing innovative new energy systems that are more affordable, more resilient, and built for the future.”
In his keynote, Caribbean energy expert Martyn Forde, of the Rocky Mountain Institute, helped set the stage for the day by speaking about how communities build resiliency and the challenges they face as they work to rebuild more sustainably in the wake of these natural disasters.
“The biggest resource of any island is its people, and networks are key,” noted Forde. “Networks are reliable, and when established, robust. They are reactive and ready to respond when needed, and everyone has a role. Most importantly, networks are real.”
An energy management consultant with the Rocky Mountain Institute’s Islands Energy Program, Forde is also the Community Leader of the CARILEC Renewable Energy Community (CAREC), an online platform designed to enable Caribbean utility companies and energy professionals to share their knowledge on low-carbon technologies and steward organizational knowledge development through webinars, virtual working groups, and workshops.
He ended his presentation with a request for those in attendance: “I challenge all of you to reach out to each other and commit to resilience in times of crisis and beyond. In order to build resiliency in your community, you have to build trust. Get to know who your community members are and create a safe space to connect, collaborate, and move things forward.”
Another highlight of the conference was the presentation of the Island Energy Innovation Award to the community of Islesboro. The Midcoast island community was recognized with this year’s award for its across-the-board commitment to pursuing clean and efficient island energy systems.
Through the efforts of community groups and island organizations, residents, and municipal leaders, this has included: weatherization and interior storm window insert services provided to dozens of homes; facility-wide LED lighting retrofits at Islesboro Central School and a small solar project that helps power the school greenhouse funded through grant applications written by the students; the creation of an ad-hoc energy committee by the town Select Board; and voter support for municipal solar that has resulted in a large photovoltaic array on the roof of the town office.
When accepting the award, Toby Martin, chair of the Islesboro Energy Committee, noted the support and hard work of everyone in the community. "Being honored by the Island Institute with the Island Energy Innovation Award is a wonderful testament to all the Islesboro residents, organizations, committees, and town officials who have made such a strong commitment to sound energy practices for our community. This award will remind us of those efforts, and it will inspire us to carry out the ongoing challenges ahead.”
As a part of the conference, guests were invited to take part in a special site visit to Islesboro on Saturday, May 5th, where they visited the newly-installed solar installations at the school and town office and heard more about the locally-driven energy efficiency and community planning efforts from the island residents.
In its eighth year, the Island Institute’s Island Energy Conference is the region’s premier forum on community-based energy solutions, bringing together island leaders and energy experts from around the world and creating a forum for sharing ideas, exchanging information, and celebrating successes. To highlight this year’s theme of community resiliency, presentations and panel discussions included: lessons learned from the frontlines of energy efficiency, energy innovation in island communities, bridging the energy efficiency gap in rural areas, the role of leadership and local understanding in building sustainability, how to plan for uncertainty, and ideas for creating and maintaining a resilient energy future.