SOUTHWEST HARBOR — Jim Colquhoun could hardly contain his excitement when, last Wednesday afternoon, he watched his home electric meter “run backwards” after his new rooftop solar system was plugged in.
Colquhoun and his wife, Leza, watched the equipment, which took about a day and a half to install, with pride. They paid for the system up front, he said, and figure they will recoup the cost in the form of lower electricity costs in about seven years.
The project is part of Solarize MDI, a collaborative effort of local advocacy group A Climate to Thrive (ACTT) and solar firm ReVision energy to increase the adoption of small-scale solar electricity at homes and businesses. The project ends July 15. The reason for the push is the possibility of changes in federal and state rules and incentives.
A federal tax credit is set to be reduced in 2019, ACTT director Joe Blotnick said. But more significant, he said, is a proposed 10 percent reduction in “net metering” rates and further reductions in future years per Maine Public Utility Commission rules. “Net metering” refers to the rates the power company – in this area’s case, Emera Maine – is obliged to pay small electricity producers for the power their systems feed back into the grid. But anybody installing this year is grandfathered under the current rates, Blotnick said.
Town governments and businesses also are getting in on the action. The Bar Harbor Public Works complex is home to two photovoltaic arrays, one that powers the buildings there but is owned by ReVision under a power purchase agreement (PPA) and one that is owned by the members of a Community Solar Farm (CSF) association. A PPA project for the public works facility in Mount Desert also is in the works.
Businesses including Classic Boat Shop, Peekytoe Provisions and Old Dog Baking Company are incorporating solar arrays into their operations.
“I am excited to move my baking and household use of energy to solar,” Steve Anastasia of Old Dog Baking said. “It means that I am getting closer to a carbon neutral operation. The 6-kilowatt system that my house-business is getting will cost me less than my monthly electric bill after the federal tax credit. Additionally, I am receiving a rebate check for about $1,800 from ReVision” through the Solarize MDI program.”
Jennifer Albee of ReVision said the immediate goal is to double solar energy production on MDI, and they’re halfway there with nearly $1 million worth of installations complete or under contract.
The first step for a home or business contemplating a ground or rooftop installation, she said, is to call the power company and request their usage information from the last 12 months. A south-facing roof is no longer a requirement. “You only lose 10-15 percent capacity on an east or west facing roof,” Albee said.
Maintenance on the systems is minimal, she said. In the winter, there’s so much less solar energy available that it may not be necessary to keep panels clear of snow. “If your panels are covered in snow in February, you’re not missing much,” she said.
Special loans to finance solar projects are available from Bar Harbor Banking and Trust and from ReVision.