Solar deal questions

To the Editor:

At the town meeting on June 9, the voters of Bar Harbor approved Article T, which authorizes the Town Council to negotiate and enter contracts for the construction of multiple private solar power projects on municipal land.

We like solar power, but we opposed this initiative because we believed the use of municipal land was unwarranted and that the benefits arising from this private use of municipal land should, as in other such cases, belong to no one and be available for all citizens to enjoy equally.

We continue to have questions and concerns about these solar power projects.

Despite their much-touted green credentials, these projects are fundamentally businesses. Each will generate income, distribute benefits and be owned and operated by private investors who will require and receive a meaningful return on their 30-year investment. During our review of Article T as members of the Warrant Committee, we received very few concrete details about the terms, finances and operations of these projects. Our questions aimed at eliciting such information received general and sometimes contradictory answers.

This matter is now in the hands of the council. As the town’s representative in these pending negotiations, we hope it will demand full disclosure of all the details and terms, carefully evaluate the merits, and when necessary, insist on terms that ensure fairness and promote the best interests of the town and its citizens.

Our chief concerns and suggestions about these solar power projects are as follows:

We are opposed to installing a solar array on the roof of the town’s new salt shed. Leasing municipal land to a private concern for $700 per year is one thing; intentionally risking harm to a $200,000 municipal asset for $700 revenue per year to benefit nine private individuals is quite another.

If a solar array is to be constructed on the salt shed roof, the town should first seek professional advice from objective third-party consultants about the potential risks. Only then can a full and informed discussion about the pros and cons be had.

At a minimum, such an inquiry should determine if the installation of a solar array will impede the roof’s designed ability to shed snow, if it will create adverse conditions for the roof structure and if it will void the 45-year warranty on the roof panels’ galvanization and paint.

Metal and salt are notoriously incompatible. Under the terms of the warranty, the manufacturer of the roof panels is liable for any corrosion on the roof for 45 years. However, if the installation of a solar array voids the warranty, the town will bear the cost to repair or replace the panels.

Because the proposed community solar farms (CSF) will enjoy the use of municipal land at favorable terms for 30 years, there should be no question that ownership of each CSF and the benefits thereof should be reserved for Bar Harbor residents exclusively. We believe the pool of eligible owners should be limited to Bar Harbor residents. If a resident owner later became a non-resident, that should require them to sell their interest.

We believe the CSF financing mechanism effectively precludes low- or fixed-income households from ownership. On the one hand, the approximately $15,000 initial investment to join a CSF requires discretionary cash on hand or the means and credit rating to finance this amount over time. We believe that low- or fixed-income households cannot meet these requirements.

Without concrete details, our analysis is self-instructed, so we may be wrong. But we believe it is important enough to warrant further inquiry. It would be ironic if an initiative that utilizes municipal land to build community unintentionally excludes residents who could benefit the most.

We believe the town should consider imposing conditions, such as set-asides, subsidies or cost sharing, to ensure that CSF ownership is a realistic option for all residents.

Lastly, the selection of CSF owners should be open and conducted using a lottery process.

Michael Blythe

Jonathan Eno

Seth Libby

Bar Harbor

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