Solar farm may sprout on rooftop

BAR HARBOR — Plans for a 45-kilowatt solar array at the town’s new public works complex off Crooked Road are likely to come before voters at town meeting in June.

The “community solar farm” (CSF) would feature 175 solar panels mounted on top of the salt/sand shed at the complex. It would supply power to a group of nine households that would own and be responsible for the panels.

The town would receive a modest lease payment of $500 per year from the CSF shareholders, but the benefits would go much deeper than short-term financial gain, town councilor Gary Friedmann said.

“It would be an opportunity for Bar Harbor to take the lead in something that would be kind of exciting,” Friedmann, the architect of the project, told other town councilors March 3. “I think that this would be a great demonstration project for the island because other people could see that solar is actually viable and get to understand it. It could be the beginning of a new solar industry here. There’s no cost to the town for doing this. It’s a very small commitment.”

With the average life span of solar panels reaching 40 years, it would be necessary to offer at least a 30-year lease to the CSF for the site. However, town councilors may only enter into a lease of up to 15 years without town approval. Therefore, the project must come before voters at town meeting in order to move forward.

Town councilors on March 3 voted unanimously to have Town Manager Cornell Knight draft language for placing the lease on the June town meeting ballot. They are to take action on Knight’s order March 17.

“This is something that really does have to happen sooner or later. And this particular project is wonderful for two reasons. The first is … there is no harm to the town that I can see. The other thing is, in speaking to a pilot program, one of the things that needs to happen is that things like solar arrays have to begin to look normal,” councilor Clark Stivers said. “This is a perfect project for beginning the process of beginning to make solar arrays look normal in town, so I’m all for it.”

The CSF model is designed by ReVision Energy and is made possible by Maine’s virtual net metering legislation. Under the state’s rules, utilities must allow renewable energy generated at one site to offset usage at another site. Up to ten individuals including the site owner can share ownership of the project.

ReVision Energy has set up just one CSF so far, in Paris. The site is on private land, and is similar in size to the one proposed in Bar Harbor. The installation cost was approximately $175,000, but with tax credits, a 10 percent share cost approximately $12,000. At this cost, and current electric rates, the average household would save several hundred dollars a year on their electric bill and would see full payback in 13 years.

ReVision Energy would build the CSF once the shareholders were onboard, and the shareholders would form an association to lease the panels from the town and insure and maintain them. Individual investments are portable, meaning that shareholders can continue as part of the group even if they move, so long as they remain in Emera Maine territory. ReVision Energy offers 12-year financing to shareholders who wish to join the project.

Friedmann has worked with ReVision before, and a year ago floated a plan to build a 1,200-panel solar array at the public works site. However, the project would have needed at least $1 million in private investment. Due to the lack of tax credits for solar investment in Maine, as compared to other New England states, investors did not materialize, Friedmann said.

Councilor David Bowden questioned the project’s benefit to the town and wondered about risking construction on the roof of the salt/sand building. Friedmann, however, said he thought that the forward-looking project could benefit the town in many ways.

“I expect that this is going to take off. As rates continue to rise, we’re going to see more and more people looking at solar. What we can do is kind of jump-start that by staging a demonstration project here that can raise interest,” he said. “I see this as ultimately [having] huge economic potential to the town as we start to generate our own power here.”



Robert Levin

Robert Levin

Former reporter Robert Levin covered the people, businesses, governmental and nonprofit agencies of Bar Harbor. [email protected]
Robert Levin

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