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Tale of Two Islands

The Road to Resilience

I’d like to tell the tale of two islands.  One is Vashon Maury and the other is in Denmark.

Samso Island in Denmark is about 20% larger than Vashon with about 40% of our population.  It is located in the middle of Denmark with the Jutland peninsula about 9 miles west and the two largest islands somewhat farther to the south and east.  When you look at it on a map, it will remind you of Vashon between the Kitsap peninsula, Seattle and Tacoma.  It is known for its strawberries as well as a great variety of other fruits, vegetables, grains, and livestock products.  Like Vashon, its shoreline is mostly steep hillsides with rocky beaches and an occasional sandy beach.
Fifteen years ago, Samso was not a particularly remarkable place. Like Vashon, Samso received power via an underwater cable from power plants on the surrounding mainlands.  At the time, most of the residents were satisfied with this arrangement.  In 1997, Samso won a government competition to become a model renewable energy community. The goal was to become completely energy self-sufficient in ten years.  Probably a main factor in choosing Samso was that it had a lot of untapped windpower.   The central government invested 90 million dollars in the project.  By 2005, after ten wind generators had been built off shore and most of another eleven onshore, Samso was completely self- sufficient in electric energy.  Today, they produce the 26 million kwh that they use plus another 80 million kwh that they sell to the mainland.  Since many of the residents are shareholders, this means income.  One farmer who owns one of the generators outright makes $4,000 a day when the wind is blowing!

Besides replacing their electrical energy source, they transformed much of their traditional use of heating oil and gas to locally sourced straw and solar heating.  This takes the form of 4 central plants that burn the straw, collect the solar heat, and pipe it to nearby homes.  This system is facilitated by the fact that the 4000 people of Samso live in 22 small villages spread out across the island!  This is where the European settlement pattern sharply diverges from the way it is here.  Imagine Vashon Maury with all of us living in 20 some villages (not a bad idea in my mind).
Although, they made a great effort to conserve energy as well, they find that they really haven’t lowered their overall energy budget that much.  Transportation remains the most difficult challenge, as electric vehicles are still problematic.  Personal electric vehicles have limitations relative to gas, and no electric options are yet available for the ferries.  These problems are readlily solvable, and they have set a goal to be completely fossil fuel free by 2030.

Now lets think about our own future with the knowledge of what is possible on a similar island in Denmark.  For starters, we know that we don’t have the wind potential, as we have mountains to either side of us.  However, the ten-year-old study of energy independence on Vashon done by Rita Schenck and the Institute for Environmental Research and Education (IERE) shows that wind power is a feasible source for us. You can see this study here:  

Although photovoltaic solar energy had by far the greatest potential, it was not considered to be the most economical source.  The good news is that the cost of PV solar has dropped dramatically since then.  More good news is that the cost of fossil fuel has risen to the point that wind energy compares favorably on a cost basis and PV solar is not far behind.
As we embark on another planning effort for Vashon and Maury Island, do we want to spend our time thinking about things such as whether we want to allow sandwich boards or do we maybe want to think a little more boldly?  

You may remember that we had the opportunity to vote on establishing a public utility district here that would have implemented the ten year energy independence plan outlined in the study linked above.  We voted it down, I think, primarily because we didn’t trust the proponents’ promise that the taxing authority would not be needed or used.  With the changes in public perception, advances in technology, the rise in fossil fuel costs, and the opportunity to put together a solid business plan, I think it is time to take another look at the energy independence PUD for Vashon.   We already have a community solar installation and Zero Waste Vashon is working on the biofuels element.

On Samso, energy independence has meant jobs, and income both from power sales and tourism.  Did I mention that Samso is at 55 degrees latitude which puts it a bit north of  Ketchikan?  We have the skills and the resources to make this work; let’s not settle for mediocre dreams.


The addition of 28 large windmill generators - per the 10 year old study - would be very unsightly and would not remove the need to be tied to the mainland for power. Besides, hydroelectricity is a green energy solution and that is how a large portion of the electricity provided to Vashon is generated. Take away the federal and state energy credits and the cost of wind generation goes way up.