Solar firms vie for high school project

BAR HARBOR — A comparison of the proposals submitted by ReVision Energy and Sundog Solar to install a solar array on the roof of Mount Desert Island High School to meet the school’s electricity needs suggests that Sundog might be the better choice financially.

The high school solar project would be the largest Sundog has ever undertaken. It would be nearly three times as large as the ground-mount solar array it is currently building for Tremont on the town’s former landfill. But Sundog officials said that installing solar panels on the school’s flat roof would be easier.

ReVision has built solar projects for the towns of Bar Harbor and Mount Desert in the past two years.

Both companies said in their proposals to the high school that there probably are ways to reduce the school’s electricity usage and, thus, its energy costs. Haney said he intended to explore this further with company officials.

He said he also wanted to ask both companies for an estimate of how much solar-generated electricity would reduce the school’s carbon footprint.

“I think it would be huge, quite an impact,” he said.

Principal Matt Haney told the school’s board of trustees last Wednesday that he and Joe Blotnick, coordinator of A Climate to Thrive, are developing a list of questions for each company and that the school’s student Eco Team is will provide feedback on the proposals.

Then, Haney said, he and Blotnick will meet with officials of both solar companies to go over the questions and seek clarification on various points.

“The idea is that by [the trustees’ Jan. 2 meeting] we would have a recommendation on how to go forward,” he said.

But as far as the concept is concerned, Haney said, “The question I’ll have to ask is, ‘Why would we not do something like this?’”

Both companies have proposed a power purchase agreement (PPA) under which they would install the solar array at no initial cost to the school. But the school would pay them for electricity for six or seven years, at which time the school would buy the solar equipment. From then on, the school would pay nothing for the electricity generated.

ReVision said its cost to install the solar panels and related equipment would be $835,994 and that the system would generate 494,362 kilowatts of electricity a year. Sundog said its installation cost would be $810,000 and that the annual power output would be 515,500 kilowatts.

The high school currently pays power company Emera Maine 17 cents per kilowatt hour of electricity for a total of about $110,000 a year. ReVision would charge 20.6 cents per kilowatt hour until the school purchased the system. Sundog would charge 19 cents.

“With the volume of electricity we use, that’s a pretty significant difference,” Principal Matt Haney told the trustees. “Both of those [rate quotes] are more expensive than what we are currently paying Emera. But they would be locked in for the duration of the agreement.”

Emera’s rate could change over the next few years.

ReVision said in its proposal that the high school could purchase the solar system after six years for $634,614. With Sundog, the buyout would come after seven years, and the price would be $364,500.

ReVision is based in Liberty, Sundog in Searsport. ReVision is the older and larger of the two companies.

Haney and members of the board of trustees said that, if they enter into an agreement for the installation of a solar array, they will have to start saving up to buy it.

“We would still have an electric bill for the next six or seven years, and we’ll need to be putting away money for the buyout,” Haney said.

“We should be looking at how much we need to increase our request to the taxpayers to pay for this,” said trustee Steve Hudson.

ReVision has estimated the high school would break even financially after 24 years. Sundog’s break-even estimate is 16 years, largely because of its lower buyout price.

Dick Broom

Dick Broom

Reporter at Mount Desert Islander
Dick Broom covers the towns of Mount Desert and Southwest Harbor, Mount Desert Island High School and the school system board and superintendent's office. He enjoys hiking with his golden retriever and finding new places for her to swim. [email protected]
Dick Broom

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