Monday, December 16, 2013

Sun King* – Star Island: Where History and the Future Meet – Part 2

At Franklin Pierce University we offer an MBA in Energy and Sustainability Studies. In this program we provide students with all the business basics that are taught in traditional MBA programs such as marketing, finance, business leadership, etc but we also provide them the opportunity to focus 25% of their studies specifically into energy and sustainability studies. In these energy focused courses, students are required to submit a final project on an energy related topic of their choice. These projects are usually of very high quality and I end up learning a great deal from them myself.

This week I bring you Part 2 of a great project that was submitted by Chris Moore, one of the students in the Energy and Sustainability Program, who wrote about a New Hampshire focused project in the GM550: The Future of Energy, Business and Society course this past Spring.  You can find Part 1 here.

Star Island:  Where History and the Future Meeting – Part 2. Authored by Chris Moore for GM550: The Future of Energy, Business and Society at Franklin Pierce University

In Part 1, the energy challenges for a Star Island and its resort hotel, located off the coast of New Hampshire were described. All the energy for the island was provided by old diesel fueled generators that would soon be out of compliance and energy costs were high. For all those reasons and more, a Request For Proposal (RFP) was released by the Star Island Corporation (SIC) to find a solution to the Island’s energy problem.  SIC received several proposals from highly qualified bidders for this project, however  there was one innovative bid that captured their attention. It was the genius of Clay Mitchell and the talented team at his alternative-energy company, Revolution Energy, that won over the SIC Board of Directors.

Green Solutions by Clay Mitchell and Revolution Energy, LLC:

”Solar was the only logical solution”, Clay commented during our conversation of how he and his team chose the generating source.  He continued, “There is not enough wind out there in the summer time when the Island is at peak demand; wind was never really a serious option”.

His solution is simple in concept - photovoltaic solar panels with propane gas backup - yet incorporates the latest in electrical controls and solar technology to maximize all efficiencies from the system.  The most recognizable part of the system will be a nearly one-acre solar array made up of six or seven individual panels and situated on a relatively remote part of the Island. See the figure below. 

Because the Island sees its peak energy demand during the summer season and has very little demand in the winter, the solar arrays are able to be positioned at a 10 degree angle which optimizes for the path of the summer sun.  This nearly flat positioning was also most acceptable to the historical committees of SIC and the town of Rye, NH because it did not detract, visually, from any of the Island’s historical landmarks.  These solar voltaic panels along with two new ultra-efficient and quiet propane backup generators will feed into a large battery bank which will be housed where the old diesel generators are currently located.

The 200 kW solar arrays will produce approximately 52% of the annual kilowatt hour energy demand during the operating season and the remaining demand will be satisfied by two new ultra-efficient propane generators.  The chart below shows the Island’s demand curve against the solar array’s power-generation curve for the operating season of the Island. It is worth noting that the kilowatt hours calculated for the Island’s energy demand incorporates a reduction of nearly 25%.  This reduction is the result of various energy efficiency upgrades within the buildings on Star that would be part of the Island’s energy overhaul with this project. According to Clay Mitchell, those energy savings will be accomplished using a variety of approaches; including ratcheting back on the operation of the energy intensive reverse osmosis unit the island uses to generate drinking water. In the future, drinking water will be supplied by treating water from a roof collection system and bringing in fresh water directly from the mainland more frequently. Other energy savings actions will include upgrading all kitchen equipment with high efficiency units, upgrading lighting units, as well as operational changes and, in the future, equipment changes to the wastewater treatment operation.

The two new ultra-efficient propane generators will be fully synchronous and controlled by a charge controller to help replenish the battery banks when they dip below a certain level of discharge, ensuring high quality electricity is always available when demanded. The generators will operate at a far higher efficiency when charging the batteries than they would if following the load of the island as the current diesel generators do.

Propane was chosen as a backup fuel source for two reasons; one, modern propane generators are quiet and extremely efficient, and two, because of the ease and relative safety of transportation of this fuel-type out to the Island.  Star Island will now be able to self-transport propane tanks to and from the island by way of their own maintenance boat, allowing for an increased level of energy independence. Of course, the risk associated with land or water based oil spills is also eliminated.

The generators will also be capable of bypassing the batteries altogether and will be able to provide the entirety of the demanded load in the unlikely event of failure in the battery bank.  Redundancies such as this are planned-in throughout the entire system to ensure the continuity of operations for the island. 

Financing a green endeavor:

Engineering the most efficient solar power generating system was a top priority of Clay Mitchell and Revolution Energy LLC, however he knew that this project was dead in the water if adequate financing was not available for SIC.  The financing solution proposed to Star Island Corporation that will allow them to move forward with the project involves two key features; 1) a Power Purchase Agreement (PPA), and 2) a means to utilize the federal government’s 30% alternative energy tax incentive by offering buy-in by outside investors.  A PPA was a logical route for Star to take because they have little to no flexibility from their Board-voted annual operating budget for capital expenditures, this project would be far too costly to undertake on their own.  Secondly, being a non-profit organization, Star Island Corporation is ineligible to directly benefit from the alternative energy tax incentives offered by the federal government. This fact opens up a prospective funding source for the project by courting capital investments from outside investors who can benefit from these potential tax incentives.

The proposal by Revolution Energy LLC involves the development of a secondary project-LLC named “Revolution Energy Star Island LLC”.  Revolution Energy Star Island LLC will own all equipment of the project, it will be the party responsible for implementing and managing the PPA and it will also be the entity that investors can participate in to receive the available tax credits and other project revenues as determined by the LLC operating agreement.  By approaching the project in this way, Star Island has no upfront costs with the design and installation of the system; they will essentially purchase power that the solar arrays generate from Revolution Energy Star Island LLC at a far lower rate than what they are paying with the current diesel generators.   As the owners of the installation, Revolution Energy Star Island LLC (and their investors) will be able to utilize the alternative energy tax incentives afforded by the federal government, without which this project would not be economically feasible.

There are several different avenues that Revolution Energy LLC could take to finance the final project package.  In the end, the package will likely be a blend of available finance options. Construction financing and long-term financing may be held by two different entities. Construction financing will likely be financed through Revolution Energy LLC’s pre-existing lines of credit with Provident Bank and Bank of America. Long-term debt may be held in part by individuals investing in the project to receive the available tax incentives.

Looking forward; a process of continuing improvement:

Replacing the existing diesel generators with a clean renewable power source on Star Island is merely the beginning of a laundry list of capital projects slated for their next three to five year strategic plan.  Jack Farrell, Star Island’s manager and strategic planner, mentions some projects to tackle after the power generation is in order, “finding a solution to replacing our antiquated wastewater treatment facility and managing our potable water systems are two on the very top of the list”. He adds, “what we came to realize very quickly was that all the systems out there are completely interdependent.  A change in our electricity supply will have an effect on all systems; the same is true for the drinking water system, the wastewater system…you name it, they are all connected.”

As it currently stands (at the time of this posting), the financial details and funding sources for the project are still being developed.  “It is hard to get tax equity investors right now at this level, sadly”, Clay laments when asked about the future of the project.  At this time the project is not a sure thing and shovels have yet to hit the ground, but Clay and his team at Revolution Energy have remained resolute and dedicated to bringing this much needed solution to Star.  The challenges of implementing a new power generation system at a unique setting such as Star Island is a formidable undertaking, but the potential pay-offs for the Island are tremendous.  Star Island will benefit greatly from harnessing the quiet power of the summer sun to operate their facilities and provide their guests with desired amenities.  Star Island is committed to a simple, sustainable and low impact existence; these ideals were established by necessity several hundred years ago and are the soul of Star Island’s way of life today.

Chris Moore
Franklin Pierce University

(*Sun King: Pure unadulterated headbanging joy from The Cult, a 1980’s post-punk heavy metal group from the UK. These guys clearly spent a lot of time listening to their parents’ Black Sabbath and Deep Purple albums.  Turn up the volume and enjoy)

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Big Star* – Star Island: Where History and the Future Meet – Part 1

At Franklin Pierce University we offer an MBA in Energy and Sustainability Studies. In this program we provide students with all the business basics that are taught in traditional MBA programs such as marketing, finance, business leadership, etc. but we also provide them the opportunity to focus 25% of their studies specifically in the subject areas of energy and sustainability. In the energy focused courses, students are required to submit a final project on an energy related topic of their choice. These final reports from these projects are usually very good and I end up learning a great deal from the  reports myself.

This week I thought I would share with you a great project that was submitted by Chris Moore, one of the students in the Energy and Sustainability Program, who wrote about a New Hampshire focused project in the GM550: The Future of Energy, Business and Society course this past Spring. I found it fascinating and I am sure you will too. Enjoy. 

Star Island: Where History and the Future Meeting – Part 1.

Authored by Chris Moore for GM550: The Future of Energy, Business and Society at Franklin Pierce University

An Introduction and History:

All it takes is one short visit to New Hampshire's Star Island to fall in love with its timeless charm, rich history, abundant wildlife and welcoming family of staff and visitors. At 46 acres, Star is the second largest Island of the Isles of Shoals chain, which is a grouping of nine islands and rock outcroppings nearly ten miles southeast of the mouth of the famed Piscataqua River.

Due to their location off the coast of New Hampshire and Maine, the Shoals are divided in half by the states' lines. The main islands of the Shoals, Appledore Island, Smuttynose Island and Cedar Island are all located on the Maine side and Star Island is on the New Hampshire side. Star Island is located within the borders of the town of Rye, NH and is the only island routinely served by a commercial boat from the mainland.

Fishermen are believed to have stopped in the islands long before John Smith arrived in 1614; however Smith's visit is known to be the first written documentation of the Isles. Denis Robinson in his capsule history of the Isles of Shoals reports that the captain happened upon the Isles while on his expedition of mapping the eastern seacoast. So taken was Captain John Smith with the abundance of fish off what is now known as the Isles of Shoals, he named these "Remarkablest Isles" after himself, "Smythe's Isles". Robinson notes: "According to his original 1614 map and account, fewer than two dozen men were able to catch 60,000 fish in a month." In reference to "Smythe's Isles" and New England, Smith wrote, "...of all the foure parts of the world that I have yet seene not inhabited, could I have but means to transport a colonie, I would rather live here."

The Isles of Shoals became the busiest commercial port on this side of the ocean. It dominated the fish market, setting the commodity price for a century and a half. The collective success of the fishing industry on Smythe's Isles likely led to the eventual name change to the "Isles of Shoals", derived from the term for the "shoaling" or schooling of fish. Settlers began arriving on Star Island from New Hampshire during the late 1600's. The island had a boom in settlers until the Revolutionary War when residents left for the mainland out of fear British soldiers would take them captive. The islands, including Star Island, cycled through several periods of settlement booms followed by eras of abandonment. 

In 1873 the Oceanic, a grand hotel, was built on Star Island to cater to a growing tourism market and attracted such notable artists and writers as Childe Hassam and Nathaniel Hawthorne. In 1916 a Unitarian-Universalism nonprofit organization called Star Island Corporation (SIC), bought the island and all of its buildings and to this very day has been providing affordable individual and family retreats. While Star Island is founded on the liberal spiritual ideals of Unitarian-Universalism and the United Church of Christ, people representing a wide variety of beliefs attend conferences regularly and day-visitors journey out to enjoy the island all summer long. (Stevens, 2010)

During the summer, the island hosts a number of week-long and shorter conferences which can accommodate up to 200 guests who make use of the historic Oceanic Hotel, the 150-year-old stone chapel, and several other buildings dating back to the original village. Day visitors are also warmly welcomed to the island to discover the historic structures and explore the unique island ecology by way of a 2-mile perimeter walking path. The only transportation available to the public out to Star is provided by two commercial boat companies, Isles of Shoals Steamship Company ("M/V Thomas Laighton") and Island Cruises ("Uncle Oscar"). (Star Island Corporation, 2013). 


Transformation towards Energy Sustainability:

Equally as grand as the character, history and beauty of Star Island, so too are the momentous challenges that the Island's management faces in keeping all of the various systems and buildings in working order. Jack Farrell, Star Island's manager and strategic planner explains, "we are disconnected from everything out there. We produce our own energy, make our own water, import all of our food and manage all of our waste. Out there on Star we are like the world in miniature".

As the guests are enjoying the warm summer sea breeze and quaint old-time charm of the Island, Jack is behind the scene feverishly maintaining the three large antiquated diesel-powered generators that provide 100% of the Island's power, checking on the reverse osmosis units that provides the island with much of its potable water, monitoring the waste water treatment facility that serves the majority of the island, managing the island's solid waste streams and seeing to any repair that any of the 100+ year old buildings may require. The term "Jack of all trades" seems too obvious to ignore and rather inadequate!

The realities of operating and maintaining all of these individual systems is not only a mechanical challenge for Jack Farrell, but is a crippling financial strain on the SIC annual budget. Star Island Corporation's 13-member Board of Directors have long recognized that finding an alternative (fossil-fuel free) solution to the three large diesel-powered generators is high on the list of capital investments on the island. In the summer of 2008, SIC utilized a grant received through the Island Institute (a membership-based community development organization based in the Gulf of Maine) to implement an extensive energy audit conducted on Star Island. The results of this audit provided the Board with indisputable data on the state of the Island's power generation and energy use and further strengthened the argument for the immediate need of an alternative source of electricity for the island.

The energy audit was a comprehensive look at all the buildings on the Island, and the goal was to specifically map where the island was consuming electricity and in exactly what quantities. The audit's results estimated the peak power demand was between 90 and 100kW and its average daily load was 65-70kW. It was found that the kitchen used roughly 29.4% of the electrical power, followed by the wastewater plant at 21.3%, the reverse osmosis machine at 18.4%, and all other outlets (lighting, plug-load, etc.) was 30.9%. The assessment also documented that for the year of 2008, 154,000 kWh of electricity were consumed, of which 110,000 kWh were used during the summer conference season operations. The figure below is the energy audit's results of the average weekly electricity demand on Star Island. The bottom of the graph depicts the demand from individual circuits and the top of the chart (in blue) shows the overall collective demand that must be met by the diesel generators. 

Renewable Power Generation; Priority #1:

The results of the energy audit conducted on Star Island only strengthened the argument for what the overwhelming majority of the Board of Directors knew needed to be done; replace the three diesel generators with an alternative power source. The following are some of the major reasons cited for pursuing this capital intensive project:

  • Cost: As the table alongside reveals, SIC spends nearly $120K annually on the diesel fuel to generate electricity on the island. The cost of electricity for this type of generation is calculated to be $0.78/kWhr (as compared to $0.12-$0.18 kWhr on mainland). This cost is increasing annually due to the rising prices of diesel fuel and transportation to the island.

  • Fuel Security: There is only one remaining company (out of Portland, ME) that is capable of transporting the diesel fuel out to Star Island. If this company should become insolvent or refuse delivery, Star Island would be without any source of power generation and therefore operations would stop.
  • Environmental: Star Island has a passionate commitment to sustainability. The generation of the Island's power using a dirty fossil-fuel source was seen as a black eye to their sincere efforts of "green" operations. In addition to their harmful emissions, these generators are tremendously noisy which disrupts the serenity of the Island.
  • Liabilities: Transporting diesel fuel from a tanker ship to the on-island storage tanks is a challenging process that presents a considerable risk of fuel spills both on land and in the water. Clean-up costs of such spills can reach into the tens of thousands of dollars, depending on size, location, and conditions.
  • Regulations: The diesel generators on Star do not meet EPA's Tier 4 air-quality standards for non-emergency generator engines. All generators are required by law to meet these standards by 2012. To continue operating these generators, Star will be required to spend considerable amounts of money to retrofit them with air-quality devices in order to meet the standards.

For all these reasons and more, a Request For Proposal (RFP) was released by the Star Island Corporation to find a solution to the Island's energy problem. SIC received several proposals from highly qualified bidders for this project, however there was one innovative bid that captured their attention. 

Part 2: To follow in next post 

Chris Moore
Franklin Pierce University

(*Big Star – A 1970's group that never really broke through but they have been cited as a major influence on the 1980's and 1990's alternative rock movement and REM in particular. Big Star themselves were heavily influenced by the Beatles and the Byrds. Here is a fabulous tune "Thirteen" by Big Star. Very evocative of those simple early teenage days.)