Alumni Profile: Peter Arnold '68

Major: Biology
Peter Arnold

Source: Colby Echo, 2/25/2009

In Wiscasset, Maine, former nuclear power plant Maine Yankee remains an empty site-for now. Three proposals for the construction of new ocean energy projects are being considered for the old energy town. Peter Arnold '68 leads the efforts for a tidal project involving harvesting the movement of the tides for sustainable, environmentally friendly energy.

Arnold is the Sustainability Coordinator at the Chewonki Foundation, a not-for-profit Maine organization that teaches environmental stewardship through camps, classes, expeditions and leads by example. He helps the "whole operation be the most thoroughly" environmentally sustainable possible.

Off of the campus, Arnold has worked at the state-level and occasionally the federal-level as well. "My job allows me to interact at a number of different levels, and I think that's cool," he said. This past summer, for example, Arnold worked closely with the Maine Governor John Baldacci regarding high fuel costs. "We were really worried about what would happen in Maine in the winter," he said. He also works on local projects like the spread of bio-diesel and solar energy demo-projects.


This tidal proposal is the biggest project to date for both Arnold and the Chewonki foundation. If approved, the project would "harness the rise and fall of tidal waters through turbines in the Sheepscot River. Total generating capacity would range from one to 10 megawatts, and costs for studies and permitting are estimated in the $1 million to $2 million range. The number and location of turbines has yet to be determined, but planners are eyeing technology developed by Ocean Renewable Power Co. of Eastport," according to a February 9 article in Mainebiz.

Chewonki is awaiting the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission's (FERC) decision on whether or not to grant the Foundation permission to proceed. The group also needs approval from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the Maine Department of Environmental Protection. Then it can delve into researching the project.  

Tidal energy is a very young industry; there are only a couple of places in the world with up and running plants, according to Arnold. "If it all takes place then we have the possibility of making significant contributions to…the environment in Maine," he said.

A biology major here on the Hill, Arnold always had a "strong connection" with marine biology, which has come full circle in the form of the tidal project proposal. A Rhode Island native, Arnold would spend his summers in Maine with his grandparents harvesting seaweed to help pay for his College education.

"And also I think from Colby… came an ethic of caring for the environment and that's what I do full time now," Arnold said. His time on the Hill was where the "foundation for that awareness happened." It is now both "my passion and my job," he said.

After graduation, Arnold spent three years based in Chile with the Peace Corps working with harvesting there. There he spent time "figuring out how to both care for the marine environment and seeing if it's possible to harvest energy from it, too." Then he came back to Maine and "hasn't left since."

The other proposals, while located on the same river, would work well together. According to the Mainebiz article, Arnold said, "'They're all synergistic. There's no conflict at all.'"

One of the other proposals currently in the works for the town of Wiscasset is Aquabank, an estimated $2 billion underground hydro station. Proposed by the Riverbank Power Co., the station "would feed 1,000 megawatts of energy-enough to power 300,000 homes-through the switchyard [already there from the days of the nuclear power plant, which closed in 2004] and onto the local power grid," according to the article. It would operate in six-hour shifts. At night, when the system goes into reverse, the plant would use non-fossil fuels such as Maine-generated wind. However, according to the article, "The cost for that power is low, which means that even though the system ultimately uses more electricity than it generates, the company turns a profit by selling power for more than it costs to buy it. So no new energy would be added to the state's portfolio. But renewable energy could be stored and used when it's needed, unlike wind power, which generates electricity only when the breezes blow."

The proposed project is massive, and would the largest development in Maine's history. Like Chewonki, this project takes into careful consideration its effects on the local environment including marine life and lobstermen.

The other proposal, by Transmission Developers, Inc., is a $1 billion transmissions cable. Buried "three feet under the sea floor" it "would transport to Boston renewable energy generated in Maine, according to the article. It "would essentially treat the state's excess energy as an export crop to meet demand in urban markets."

If accepted and constructed, the proposals would generate more than just power; it would revive the town of Wiscasset as an energy town with a ripple effect of a good economy and further allow it to be, according to the article, as Arnold sees it, "an international energy ocean hub."