Tremont first to solarize landfill

TREMONT— Where flowers now bloom, soon solar panels are expected to pop up and offset electricity costs to the town’s buildings.

Outside the Tremont town office, the Alfred Butler Memorial Trail leads to where a ground-mounted solar array is scheduled to be installed on a former landfill. It will be the first array on a landfill in power company Emera Maine’s territory, according to officials at A Climate to Thrive.

Savings from the solar array are expected to reach $400,000 in electricity costs over the next 25 years. All municipal officials are on board with the Tremont solar power purchase agreement. Selectmen had been waiting for support for the project from the town’s school board, which came through just hours before the June 25 Select Board meeting.

“It’s an excellent site and the site’s not useable for anything else,” said Kevin Buck, who is chairman of the Select Board.

The landfill was capped in 1996 and the 3-acre space is expected to hold about 500 solar panels.

“We’re going to have the largest array on the island, for awhile anyway,” said Buck. He worked on this project with members of the Tremont Solar Task Force through the winter months.

This number of panels is designed to generate 192,000 kilowatt hours in the first year and average 153 KW/year over the span of 25 years. According to Buck, the lower average is due to basic degradation of the panels over time.

Public Works Director Jimmy Schlaefer noted the old landfill area is a great location because it gets plenty of sun throughout the winter. Trees line the outer perimeter and low-lying vegetation covers the top.

Several solar companies in the area were invited to bid on the project. A town committee chose Sundog Solar of Searsport. A contract from the company is currently under review and expected to go before the selectmen for approval later this month, according to Buck.

At their July 2 meeting, the Select Board was notified of concerns the town’s attorney brought forth after the contract review.

According to Town Manager Chris Saunders, the town’s attorney voiced concern for three aspects of the project. One was whether selectmen are authorized to move forward on the project or whether it requires voter approval. Two other concerns were maintenance on the system and whether the town owns the land.

“He thinks the answer is we don’t have a clear title to the property,” Saunders told selectmen in reference to the attorney’s concerns. “No one wants this land. No one else has a claim to it. We have the best claim to it but it’s not necessarily free and clear.”

Buck said he was surprised by the new developments. A representative from Sundog Solar recommended the board do more research around the concerns to avoid future conflicts.

There were three bids offered to the town for the project.

“It was a very tough choice,” said Buck. “We liked Sundog’s proposal a little bit better.”

Average monthly savings in electricity costs to the eight town buildings, including the Harbormaster’s building, is expected to be 39 percent each year for the town.

“We’re going to be paying less for electricity than we have been at any phase of it,” said Buck.

During the first six years of the project the array will be owned and maintained by Sundog Solar and investors through that company, which will sell the power it produces to the town. In the seventh year, the array will become the property of the town and maintenance costs will then be the town’s responsibility.

Three goals listed by A Climate to Thrive for the project are to reduce the monthly cost of electricity, reduce carbon emissions with clean, renewable energy and reduce the need for Emera to purchase high cost electricity off-island during peak summer loads.

Sarah Hinckley

Sarah Hinckley

Former Islander reporter Sarah Hinckley covered the towns of Southwest Harbor, Tremont and neighboring islands.

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