Bucksport Town Council considers solar energy agreement

BUCKSPORT — The Town Council will have an array of issues to consider at its meeting Thursday, including the possibility of installing a solar array on the Public Works garage.

Earlier this summer, the council received a proposal from ReVision Energy, a Portland-based solar energy company that has installed thousands of systems for businesses, municipalities and homeowners across New England.

The proposal is a power purchase agreement, where ReVision would install an array of solar panels atop the Public Works garage. ReVision would still own the array, and the town would buy the electricity generated there.

The proposal says that buying electricity from ReVision would be far cheaper — as well as much healthier for the environment — than buying electricity from the utility grid.

Installing the panels “could allow us to save approximately $440,000 over the course of the next 40 years in our energy costs,” said Town Councilor Peter Stewart at the last council meeting. “That’s based on conservative estimates.”

The head of the town’s Finance Committee, Stewart recommended that the council vote to accept ReVision’s proposal at tonight’s meeting.

Should the council follow that recommendation, there would be no upfront cost to the town to build, own or operate the panels.

Instead, the town would agree to purchase all electricity generated by the system.

Town Manager Susan Lessard said the excess electricity generated at the Public Works garage could be used to offset the electricity costs at eight other town buildings, including the town office, the Tim Emery Municipal Pool and the town dock.

After six years, the town would have the option of buying the array itself. According to the proposal, that would cost the town between $69,274 and $86,593, depending on which rate schedule the town might choose.

Buying the array after six years, the proposal says, would provide the greatest electricity savings over the utility grid.

“With no maintenance other than a possible low-cost inverter replacement after 20 years, the solar systems can have a productive and trouble-free commercial life of 40 years or longer,” the proposal says.

Solar panels still generate electricity on cloudy days, but they might not generate as much when they’re covered in snow.

Lessard said that on those days the town would draw power from the conventional grid. The bad weather would not affect the town’s energy savings, though.

In its proposal, ReVision said it accounts for bad weather in the contract by looking at data from its other solar arrays in the area and by using a photovoltaic generation estimating tool called Helioscope.

“Therefore we do not recommend that solar panels be cleaned or cleared of snow,” the proposal states, “as our expectations of electricity generation are based on no action by the host, and in some instances any attempt to clean the panels may be physically unsafe.”

Instead, the panels would be cleaned of dust by rainfall and cleared of snow by the sun.

Apparently, the low-maintenance ReVision system already has good reviews from other Maine municipal leaders.

Bucksport resident Don White looked into ReVision’s past work. He said that, after working with the company, the Belfast city planner “couldn’t be happier”; that the Rockport planning and community development coordinator said ReVision was “easy to deal with”; and that the Lincolnville administrator said “so far so good.”

White said that part of the reason leaders spoke highly of ReVision was because their power purchase agreements made financial sense.

“The economies are lining up,” he said. “It’s not just the right thing to do from the environmental standpoint.”

The ReVision proposal said the panels would produce 84,470 kilowatt hours of energy a year and eliminate about 89,231 pounds of greenhouse gas emissions annually.

The agreement is a “win-win,” Stewart said.

David Roza

David Roza

David grew up in Washington County, Maryland, has reported in Washington County, Oregon, and now covers news in Hancock County and Washington County, Maine for The American and Out & About.