BAR HARBOR — A proposal to lease out the roof of the town’s new salt shed for a community solar farm drew mixed reaction from residents at a public hearing before the town council Tuesday.
The solar array, which would provide enough power for nine households, would be a powerful, symbolic step toward fighting climate change, supporters said. Opponents, however, questioned the logic of punching holes in the curved, galvanized metal roof of the brand new $200,000 salt shed, as well as the overall benefit to the town.
“I see this as a demonstration of our commitment towards a hopeful direction for the whole town,” said Glennon Friedmann, whose husband, councilor Gary Friedmann, introduced the idea to the town council this winter. “We have a major problem here, folks, about climate change, and this is one step we can take in a direction that we’re all going to have to throw ourselves fully behind in order to have a good future for our grandchildren.”
But the idea of fighting climate change was not front and center for Jonathan Eno and a few others who spoke against the project. Using a public building to benefit just a few residents just isn’t worth the risk involved, Eno said.
“My biggest concern with this project is not the idea of a community solar farm. It’s that Bar Harbor is using a town building to do it. And I have to really question why. This is the only place in the town of Bar Harbor that this farm could be put in? I don’t believe that,” Eno said. “And I don’t believe we need to take a brand new building and start punching holes in it. That just doesn’t make sense to me.”
Under the arrangements of the community solar farm, Bar Harbor would work with ReVision Energy or a similar company and lease the roof of the salt shed to a group of nine households for 30 years. The households would invest in and pay for the project, and the town would receive lease payments of approximately $750 per year. The arrangement is touted as being especially advantageous to apartment dwellers or those with unsuitable sites with too much shade or other impediments.
Because the project would involve a 30-year lease, it must be approved by voters at a town meeting. The issue is on the warrant for this year’s open town meeting on June 9 and will be subject to debate on the floor of the meeting.
Sue Jones of ReVision Energy said Tuesday that the true benefit of such a project is the ripple effect it would have, with solar energy systems proliferating throughout the town. Jones said that as solar power systems become more visible in an area, more people think about them and decide to invest in them.
“It is a true community spurring effect … so, one person’s actions investing in solar can have a magnitude and a leveraging effect on the whole community and on the whole grid. Because the more renewable energy we have on the grid, it stabilizes the prices for all of us throughout Maine.”
Jones also refuted criticisms that the array would damage the roof of the salt shed, stating that ReVisions engineers would not have signed off on the project unless they were sure that it could be installed without harming the building.
Richard Sassaman agreed with Jones’ points about sustainability. He said that he supported Bar Harbor taking the lead in the project. When looking at the bigger picture, he said, investing in solar energy makes good sense.
“It seems that as all the decades go by … the traditional means are getting more scarce and more expensive, and I think this kind of forward-looking project would really benefit … not only our town, but it would inspire other towns in Maine to deal with this issue,” Sassaman said.
In a handout to the audience Tuesday, Jones outlined financing options for households interested in the project. The cost of joining would be $15,500, but if paid at once, the investor could take a federal tax credit worth $4,600, making their one-time investment just under $11,000. Those interested in financing through ReVision Energy, meanwhile, would be able to borrow the tax credit portion of the money for a year at 0 percent and the rest at 2.99 percent for 12 years, resulting in a monthly payment of $107, which Jones said is meant to place the cost on par with average family electric bills. After the loan was paid off, investors would basically receive free energy for the remaining life of the project. Most solar arrays last for close to 40 years, she said.
Several speaking against the project Tuesday took issue with the idea that just nine households would benefit, even while councilor Friedmann pointed out that nothing would preclude the development of more community solar farms to provide power to more households.
“One of the points that was made in Gary’s presentation was that this project would show Bar Harbor’s commitment to solar power. It does not. Bar Harbor is not using solar power. The town is not getting it,” Eno said. “This doesn’t help all the taxpayers of Bar Harbor. It helps individuals who have enough money to invest in a special project and make a lot of money doing it.”
Later in the evening, councilors voted 4-2 in favor of recommending approval of the solar farm lease when it comes before voters in June. Anne Greenlee and David Bowden voted in the minority. Paul Paradis was absent from the meeting.
The warrant committee previously voted 11-9 to recommend that voters approve of the issue.