Solarize Bar Harbor now!

By Gary Friedmann

Bar Harbor voters have an opportunity to take a tangible step toward putting the brakes on climate change by voting for Article T at Town Meeting on June 2. A “yes” vote authorizes the Town Council to lease town land and roofs for the purpose of siting Community Solar Farms and Power Purchase Agreements to provide power to the municipality.

Most agree that solar energy is a good idea. It reduces carbon emissions, employs Maine residents, slows the flow of our energy dollars to distant fossil fuel producers, enhances our image as a green tourist destination and saves money.

Objections center around two issues: fears of harm to the roof of the salt shed and whether it is fair to lease town property for the benefit of nine residents buying into the solar farm.

Concerns about the salt shed roof are unfounded in fact and experience. Thousands of installations have been made on rooftops throughout Maine and New England without incident, even through hurricanes.

Our salt shed, in particular, is ideal for solar panels.

These panels, weighing 2.7 pounds per square foot, would be attached to the same superstructure that the metal roof itself is attached to. Because the 6-inch by 12-inch laminated beams and all the cross-braces are completely exposed inside the shed, it will be easy to safely attach the solar panels directly to the wooden supports. It would not hang from the roofing material.

Of course, the manufacturer guarantees the roofing against rupture or failure for 45 years due to perforation – how else could the roof be attached to the building? The roof has been attached to the wooden structure with 10,000 screws. The proposed solar panels would require far fewer fasteners.

The solar farm proposed for the salt shed would supply electricity for up to nine Bar Harbor families to showcase the viability of photovoltaics and community solar projects. This pilot project would give residents who do not have good solar exposure the opportunity to demonstrate how solar alternatives work technically and financially.

Low-cost financing is available to help make participation available to most citizens. Our hope is that more than nine will be interested in participating, and these residents will be directed to future projects contemplated by the town, COA, and others.

In fact, this article does not bind the town to the salt shed, nor does it limit the town to hosting just nine families in one solar farm. Article T allows the council to enter into long-term leases of any town property for solar power, opening the way for multiple solar farms. For example, there is some interest in using the abandoned Gray’s Pit lot (off Route 3 and adjacent to the Seabury Drive subdivision) for a solar farm.

This former gravel pit has been vacant and unutilized for 40 years. The disrepair of the old access road restricts most potential uses at this time. But it could easily host enough solar panels to power hundreds of homes and businesses. Article T will allow the town to turn this forgotten parcel into a solar asset.

An NYU/Yale University study revealed that every solar installation in a community increased the likelihood that others would follow suit. This is our chance to get the ball rolling in Bar Harbor.

Squandering this opportunity would just be another nail in the coffin of climate change.

Gary Friedmann is a member of the Bar Harbor Town Council.

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