Making progress

Two events this week signaled the growing momentum towards an alternative energy future here on Mount Desert Island.

On Sunday, at a conference organized by A Climate to Thrive, the group that has set a goal of making Mount Desert Island energy independent by 2030, speakers outlined progress being made in the areas of alternative energy, building efficiency, transportation, waste management, food systems and public policy.

On Monday, at the Bar Harbor Public Works Facility in Hulls Cove, Sen. Angus King was the featured speaker as the town marked the pending construction of the first community-based solar farm in Maine and the first shared solar facility in the area of Maine served by electrical utility Emera Maine.

Nearly 200 photovoltaic panels owned by members of the community will be installed on the roof of a vehicle garage, generating as much as 60,000 kwh of electricity annually. Over the life of the project, the cost of that power is estimated by proponents to be less than current standard-offer rates.

Speaking at the dedication, Gary Friedmann of the Bar Harbor Town Council, noted that a survey done by A Climate to Thrive, indicates more than 80 percent of the island’s electrical needs could be met were every applicable roof on MDI to have solar panels. While that kind of compliance may not be possible, it does suggest that the goal of energy independence may be within reach.

A concerted conservation effort, as envisioned by A Climate to Thrive, would help reduce demand, making the potential generation capacity even more attractive. With new technology coming on line, such as the large Powerwall storage batteries announced by Tesla, there eventually will be storage capacity when there is no bright sun or wind.

As King noted, the cost of photovoltaic installation has fallen sharply in recent years, and undoubtedly will continue to drop. The economics involving electricity from the sun undoubtedly will continue to improve.

But, much remains to be done, both on the technical and regulatory fronts to make A Climate to Thrive’s dream a reality. Permitting solar owners a higher rate for selling surplus power back to utility companies has been beneficial in encouraging more people to “go solar.”

That practice, known as net metering, along with federal tax credits, has created demand which in turn, has resulted in lower prices for photovoltaic equipment as production capability increases. Questions still need to be answered, however, about the fairest way to structure that system going forward. Net metering ultimately will increase the cost of electricity for all other consumers.

The future for alternative energy and energy independence here on Mount Desert Island appears to be bright. The use of bio-fuel boilers at both College of the Atlantic and The Jackson Laboratory is a proven first sign of an encouraging evolution.

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