New community solar farm eyed

BAR HARBOR — A proposed community solar project located at College of the Atlantic’s Peggy Rockefeller Farm will be one of several local energy initiatives discussed on Tuesday, July 7, at COA’s first Coffee and Conversation event of the summer.

COA’s director of energy education and management, Anna Demeo, will be joined for the discussion by William Osborne, co-founder of MDI Clean Energy Partners. The talk is the first in COA’s summertime Coffee and Conversation Series, which explores the political, cultural and social issues shaping our world. All talks in the series are free and open to the public and begin at 9 a.m.

“Solar is the answer to our energy problem because it has the fewest negative unintended consequences of any of the energy sources,” Osborn said. “It’s not going to happen in a widespread way unless communities and individuals get involved on a very broad scale – everybody everywhere – and you can’t do that without learning the best practices for making it happen.”

MDI Clean Energy Partners was founded several years ago by Osborn and former COA president Steve Katona to provide education and expertise on alternative energy partnerships. The community solar installation at Peggy Rockefeller Farm, on the corner of Norway Drive and Crooked Road, would be their first large project outside of the COA campus.

The solar farm would contain as many as 200 photovoltaic panels and would be owned by nine households, who would offset their electric bills by investing in the project. The plan is very similar to the one recently discussed by the Town Council for the public works facility or elsewhere.

Demeo said that the project would provide opportunities to those who do not have the right roof or property for a solar installation but who want to invest in that direction. More importantly, she said, it could create a model that could be replicated and spread across the island.

“We hope to come up with a process that can be used again and again on MDI,” Demeo said.

Osborn began working with solar energy in the late 1970s when he ran a solar energy office for the state of Massachusetts. This led to a stint as a regulatory lawyer for energy and work raising venture capital for solar projects. More recently, he started the Massachusetts Green Energy Fund, which invests in companies working with clean energy.

A summer resident of Hancock Point and a long-time ally of COA, Osborn said that the people and the geography here lends itself to his approach to clean energy, which he believes starts within the community.

“If this is going to be our ultimate energy source, we don’t have a whole lot of time to get it to work, and the building piece of it is really important to get right,” he said. “If we’re going to be an island laboratory, and COA is going to be a test bench to make solar happen in a community-driven way, you’ve got to test drive a bunch of techniques, and find out what works.”

The solar farm proposal would nearly triple the number of solar panels now at the farm. In 2013, COA installed 95 panels at the farm through a power purchase agreement with ReVision Energy. The electricity from the installation covers about 6 percent of the college’s annual needs.

All of the Coffee and Conversation discussions run from 9 to 10 a.m. Each discussion takes place in the Deering Common Community Center at COA’s Eden Street campus, unless otherwise noted. Visit COA online for more information.


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