Episode 19: Peek Into the Mountain

NEXT New England
NEXT New England
Episode 19: Peek Into the Mountain

This week, we take a rare look a gigantic battery that’s helping to balance our region’s energy grid. Plus, we get perspective from Maine’s top energy official, who is stepping down. We also take trips to a tiny island where opioid addicts go to seek treatment, and to the city that inspires the country’s most famous horror writer. And we learn what charitable donations — or lack thereof — say about New Englanders.

The road into the entry portal of the hydro-electric power plant in Northfield Mountain. At 33-feet in diameter, the tunnel is nearly a mile long and leads 750 feet deep into the heart of the mountain. (Credit: Jesse Costa/WBUR)

Finding the Right Energy Mix

Today’s batteries come in all shapes and sizes. The largest in New England — and once the world — was built 45 years ago and is still working. But it’s hidden, on top and deep inside a mountain in north-central Massachusetts.

WBUR’s Bruce Gellerman reports from Northfield Mountain.

Inside the Northfield Mountain pumped storage hydroelectric station. (Credit: Jesse Costa / WBUR)

The upper reservoir is the battery that powers the Northfield Mountain pumped hydro-electric plant. It holds more than five billion gallons of water. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)

In Maine, Republican Governor Paul LePage’s energy director is stepping down from his job at the capitol. “Augusta is really broken,” Patrick Woodcock, who held his position since 2013, told the Portland Press Herald. “Energy policy is really complicated and there’s an over-reliance on special interests,” he said.

Patrick Woodcock, director of the Governor’s Energy Office in Maine, is stepping down this week. (Credit: Mal Leary/ Maine Public Radio)

Woodcock says he wants to keep working in energy, in Maine, outside of state government. As our region aggressively moves toward more renewable sources of power, he says we need to stay focused on bringing down costs for consumers and businesses.

We recorded our conversation with Woodcock on Tuesday. Since, we’ve learned that President-elect Donald Trump has picked Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt to head the EPA. Pruitt has been a close ally of fossil-fuel companies, questions the human impact on climate change, and has been sharply critical of EPA regulations.

We asked Woodcock – as someone who served in the administration of Paul LePage, a governor who has been likened both politically, and in temperament to Donald Trump – what he thinks the impact of Trump’s national energy policy might be on Maine and New England.  You won’t hear Woodcock’s response to this appointment – because, at the time, we had fewer specifics. But he did have some interesting thoughts on the issue.

Treatment Island

Brett, a program participant at Penikese, learns how to chop wood. (Credit: Karen Brown/NEPR)

About a dozen miles off the coast of cape cod sits a rustic island named Penikese, near the end of the Elizabeth Island Chain.

A hundred years ago, Penikese was home to a leper colony. Later it housed a school for troubled boys, and a bird sanctuary.

This past fall, Penikese opened to its newest incarnation: a treatment program for young men suffering from addiction.

The program’s participants live simply: using kerosene lamps and cooking on a wood-burning stove, and minimal access to the internet.

New England Public Radio’s Karen Brown takes us there.

New Englanders Give Less to Charity, Stephen King Excepted

Bangor, Maine is one of the most famous towns in the world, though some may not realize it. Fans of renowned horror author Stephen King know Bangor well, but by another name: Derry. The fictional town is a thinly disguised version of Bangor, where the author has lived for decades. Derry appears in many of King’s stories and provides the major setting for the novel “It.”

Maine Public Radio’s Jennifer Mitchell took a tour of the real Derry with a tour company exclusively devoted to showcasing Stephen King’s Bangor.

A family poses in front of Stephen and Tabitha King’s home in Bangor Maine during a King-themed tour. (Credit: Jennifer Mitchell/Maine Public Radio)

Alongside his wife Tabitha, Stephen King has given millions to public projects in Bangor, according to the city’s Community and Economic Development Department. The Kings have quietly funded upgrades to libraries, fire departments, baseball diamonds and more around Maine.

But New Englanders in general look less than generous compared with people in other parts of the country. We give an average of less than three percent of our household incomes to charity, compared to the national average of 4.7 percent. Of course within New England, some states give more than others.

With the holiday season upon us, Connecticut-based columnist Susan Campbell took a hard look at household charitable giving in a recent article for the New England News Collaborative. We sat down with Susan and Jim Klocke, CEO of the Massachusetts Nonprofit Network.

About NEXT

NEXT is produced at WNPR.
Host: John Dankosky
Producer: Andrea Muraskin
Executive Producer: Catie Talarski
Digital Content Manager/Editor: Heather Brandon
Contributors to this episode: Bruce Gellerman, Karen Brown, Jennifer Mitchell, Susan Campbell
Music: Todd Merrell, “New England” by Goodnight Blue Moon, “The Mountain” by the Heartless Bastards

Get all the NEXT episodes.

We appreciate your feedback! Send praise, critique, suggestions, questions, story leads, and pictures of your corner of New England to next@wnpr.org.