When you pay 65 cents a kilowatt hour for electricity, something as simple as swapping an old-fashioned incandescent light bulb for an LED lamp can add up to big savings. Year-rounders on two Maine islands are finding out just how much.
Under a sustainability program run by the Maine-based Island Institute, and with a volume discount from a Portland wholesaler, thousands of LED lamps have been made available to residents of Matinicus and Monhegan, the only two year-round islands in Maine where electricity still is produced by diesel generators. Electricity costs on Matinicus are five times the national average, and twice the relatively high rates charged by Hawaiian utilities.
According to an article in the Maine Sunday Telegram, 610 LEDs were shipped by ferry last month to Matinicus and sold to residents for $1 each. Another 400 LEDs will be sent this winter, resulting in total savings of $8,000, according to the newspaper. On Monhegan, the 2,326 LEDs sent over this year will help customers save a total of $15,000.
The program will help people like Cynthia Young and her husband, a lobsterman, on Matinicus. They are two of between 15 and 60 people who make the island their year-round home, and they can pay as much as $600 a month for electricity during the winter. The Island Institute delivered 65 bulbs to them recently, which will light their house and a barn/apartment where two other fishermen live.
Savings add up quickly. Assuming the LED would be used for two hours per day, and factoring in the type of incandescent bulb it replaced, the Island Institute’s Ben Algeo predicts an annual savings of $30 per year per bulb on Matinicus. Savings would be even bigger on Monhegan, where the Maine Public Utilities Commission lists the cost of electricity at 74 cents a kWh.
There’s a downside for the utility
Although savings could be significant for island residents, there’s a downside for the tiny utilities that serve them.
“It’s a Catch-22,” Matinicus tax collector George Tarkleson told the Telegram’s‘s Tux Turkel. “If we have fewer kilowatt hours, we are going to have to keep raising the rates.”
Lower sales is one of several problems that the Matinicus Plantation Electric Company mentioned in the latest town report, along with fewer winter residents, late payments, and aging equipment. All those factors are putting more pressure on revenues.
Turkel reports that Algeo has been looking to Naushon island off the coast of Massachusetts as a model for reducing reliance on diesel generation in Maine. There, incandescent bulbs were replaced with compact fluorescents lamps 10 years ago; then old refrigerators were exchanged for newer, more efficient models. Finally, the island invested in a photovoltaic system with battery storage, and taken together these efforts reduced diesel use by 70%.
Still, judging from comments posted after the Telegram article was published November 8, not everyone is
sold on energy-efficient lighting.
“Someone sold them a bill of goods,” one reader said. “Hope they kept their old bulbs. Will need them. We tried LED lights. High failure rates, horrible light, and a constant hum that interfered with our shortwave radios.”
“Ever try to use an LED to heat up a room or an egg incubatory?” another asked. “Or to give a room that nice yellow glow? Even the new ones still hum and interfere with shortwave receivers. Might as well live in a funeral parlor the way LED lights make some folks look.”