Viewpoint: A solar energy solution that saves our climate and taxpayers’ money

By Gary Friedmann

Bar Harbor owns 40 acres in Salsbury Cove, half a mile up an overgrown right of way west of Route 3. Decades ago, Higgins Pit, stripped of its topsoil and gravel, was used to dispose of sewage sludge and other materials. Now there’s a plan to transform this forgotten lot into an asset benefiting this and future generations.

The price of solar panels is now so low that current state policies encouraging solar arrays make it possible for the town to power all its operations, as well as our schools, yielding extraordinary reductions in carbon emissions and power bills. A report submitted to the Town Council this week by A Climate to Thrive projects eliminating 1,000 tons of CO2 annually and saving the town as much as $20 million over the life of the system.

Bar Harbor has two alternatives for going solar: renting or buying. We could contract to have a third party provide solar power, as Ellsworth did. Given the total electricity our town consumes – over 2 million kilowatt hours per year – we could save as much as 25 percent on our electric bills.

The advantage of this route is saving significant time, hassle and money up front, by hiring solar contractors to locate, build, maintain and own the array. We’d essentially rent the solar panels, enjoying a significant discount while the owners build equity.

Alternatively, we could buy the panels. By partnering with A Climate to Thrive, which has been helping Island residents, businesses, schools and towns go solar for six years, the town could arrange favorable financing to generate positive cash flow from the first year of operation. And, like anyone who’s bought their home knows, when the mortgage is paid off, it’s like getting free rent.

When the town of Bar Harbor put solar panels on the Public Works buildings in 2015, we were the first municipality in eastern Maine to go solar. That system will be paid off next year and continue generating free electricity for at least another 25 years.

Local residents have been getting promotions to subscribe to solar offerings for guaranteed savings of 15 percent off Versant Power bills. Deciding whether this is the best deal for your situation can be confusing. Fortunately, the staff at A Climate to Thrive are here to help anyone in our community navigate the fast-changing solar landscape. We’ll be offering educational forums later this year to facilitate solarization at every level.

We have the opportunity to lead the way once again, demonstrating that doing the right thing for our environment can create jobs and keep our hard-earned dollars in our community rather than exporting them off-island to a foreign-owned utility.

We’ve only got 10 years to prevent runaway climate change from destroying our planet. Working together, our town can be an important part of the solution.

Gary Friedmann is a founder and board member of A Climate to Thrive and is currently serving his ninth year on the Bar Harbor Town Council.

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