ISLESFORD— Cranberry Isles Fishermen’s Co-op is living up to the ‘sustainable’ piece of its slogan a bit more with the recent installation of solar panels on its buildings.
Residents from the Cranberry Isles, students from the Outer Islands Teaching & Learning Collaborative and key stakeholders of the project gathered Sept. 18 for a ceremony to celebrate the switch to solar and enjoy some Maine lobster rolls.
“It was voted on unanimously to go solar,” said Marc Nighman, general manager of the 28-member cooperative, during the celebration. “This is a really forward-thinking group of fishermen and I’m really honored to work with them.”
Searsport-based Sundog Solar installed 144 solar panels, using all available space on the top of the five buildings owned by the cooperative.
The solar array is expected to produce 51,088 kilowatt hours per year. That’s 110 percent of the power the co-op uses, so the co-op is expecting to save about $8,000 every year.
Although the project was a group effort — the co-op combined forces with the College of the Atlantic, Island Institute, the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Sundog Solar and Bar Harbor Bank and Trust — the idea was sparked by an employee who asked Nighman why the cooperative wasn’t doing solar power.
That employee, Jonathan Partin, then went to the College of the Atlantic to see how they could help. The college’s Community Energy Center performed a renewable energy audit for the co-op, the results of which showed they were a great candidate for a solar installation.
A Rural Energy for America Program (REAP) Renewable Energy Systems grant through the USDA covered 25 percent of the cost. A Spark! grant from the Island Institute provided another $4,000 towards the total. A loan was taken out for the remainder.
Unlike the solar arrays at Mount Desert Island High School and many town buildings on MDI, which are owned by the solar installer under a power purchase agreement with the school or town, this array is owned outright by the co-op.
“We’re paying the same as we would for our electric bill,” said Nighman about the monthly loan payment. “We really don’t have any more going out than we did before.”
Grant funding will allow the co-op to pay back the money it borrowed in seven years, or less.
“These fishermen are really leaders in their industry and community,” said Stephanie McLagan of the Island Institute. “I am so glad to be here with a community that is willing to be innovative and secure its own future.”
Not only by installing a sustainable energy system, but also by involving the islands’ children. For three days, including the one on which the celebration ceremony took place, Islesford hosted students for the Inter-Island Event for the Outer Islands Teaching & Learning Collaborative.
For the ribbon-cutting part of the ceremony the students from Cliff, Monhegan, Matinicus, Frenchboro, Isle au Haut and the Cranberry Islands presented a custom made banner that said, “We pledge to clean the Earth.”
Nighman told the gathering that it’s easy to see how much Cranberry Isles fishermen cared for their environment. He related how, before joining the staff of the co-op, he worked as a sternman for Mark Fernald. He would regularly watch his boss pick up garbage from the ocean while out hauling traps, he said.
For the last three years the co-op’s lobster has mainly been sold to Luke’s Lobster and sent to that company’s processing plant in Saco. Because Luke’s sells lobster to Whole Foods, the co-op also adheres to a set of standards set by the national retailer.
These include a set of standards specific to the lobster boats that each fisherman signs an agreement to follow. A list of 15 items includes handling the lobster with great care at all times, protecting the lobster from elements that can cause stress and keeping the lobsters wet and cool. Boats are required to off-load their catch each day.
Along with the Whole Foods requirements, Luke’s Lobster/Cape Seafood also has a set of standards to maintain the quality of the product. These include shipping lobster within 24 hours of being caught, processing them within 12 hours of leaving the water and each lobster must be traced back to each co-op and wharf it is caught at.
Luke Holden, co-owner of Luke’s Lobster, spoke at the ceremony and presented the co-op with an placard and a monetary award. His company has lobster “shacks” all over the country and in Asia.
“This co-op is one of the most progressive co-ops we’ve come across,” he said, “and it’s driving the industry to be better.”