Talks are under way to transform a portion of a High Street field into a community solar farm — which, if built, would be the first of its kind in Knox and Waldo counties.

When Robyn Tarantino saw a posting on the Lincolnville Bulletin Board about the Solarize Midcoast Maine initiative, she thought her farmland would be an ideal place for a community solar farm.

A community solar farm is a shared solar array that can have up to nine participants — and those participants do not need to live in Lincolnville or even near the solar panels. As long as a shareholder is serviced by Central Maine Power Co., that shareholder is eligible to buy shares in the solar farm.

The future of solar in Maine

 

ROCKPORT — “The Future of Solar in Maine: A Conversation with Maine Leaders about Solar Policy and the State of Solar Energy” is set for Tuesday, July 12, from 6:30 to 8 p.m. at Rockport Opera House.

The program is a moderated discussion including Steve Kahl, WERU Program Host, Tim Schneider, Maine’s Public Advocate, Rep. Mark Dion, Energy, Utilities and Technology Committee, Chairman, Bill Najpauer Midcoast Economic Development District, Dylan Voorhees, Natural Resource Council of Maine and Chuck Piper of Sundog Solar in Searsport.

The meeting was organized to give more information to current solar users following Gov. Paul LePage's recent veto of solar legislation.

It is sponsored by Midcoast Economic Development District, Natural Resources Council of Maine, Sierra Club, Maine Audubon, GrowSmart Maine, Envision Maine and The Green Store.

To find out more about the event and Solarize Midcoast Maine, contact Jeff Kobrock at 370-6045 or visit solarizemidcoastmaine.com.

Tarantino has been working with Chuck Piper, co-owner of Sundog Solar in Searsport, to get the idea off the ground. The field is located near Lloyd Thomas Road.

"I wanted to do something for the community," Tarantino said, noting the property, known as the Johnson Farm, has been in her family for several generations, but hasn't been actively farmed since the 1930s when it was a dairy farm.

She said she and her husband have three of the fields hayed, but were trying to find something to do with the rest of the property when she stumbled upon the bulletin board listing.

Solarize Midcoast Maine is a partnership of 20 member towns in Waldo, Knox, Lincoln, Sagadahoc and Cumberland counties through the Midcoast Economic Development District, whose residents and business owners have shown interest in bulk purchases of solar electric systems and cost savings associated with the program. Pricing of each participant’s solar electric system is based on the number of systems and kilowatts sold, according to information on Sundog Solar's website. MCEDD chose Sundog Solar to administer the Solarize Midcoast Maine initiative.

"The community solar farm concept started in Colorado a few years ago," Piper said. "It has kind of blossomed around the country and came into Maine a couple of years ago. There are three or four community solar farms in existence now in the state."

Tarantino will have a 60-kilowatt system of approximately 216 solar panels installed on her property, which will produce 76,000 kilowatt hours per year or $11,400 worth of electricity, Piper said.

The total cost to install the system is $185,000, but because it will be privately owned, shareholders will be entitled to split a $55,000 federal tax credit, making the cost to build the farm $129,500, he said.

Nine shares will be allowed a buy-in for a certain number of panels based on their home electricity usage. Those panels then supply net meter power out to the grid in a process called virtual net metering, Piper said.

"You can have a solar array in one area that sends power out to the grid and the utility company keeps track of that power," he said.

The customers' electricity bills will show how much electricity they use and also how much is being generated by "their" solar panels, and they will receive credit for the power generated.

To install solar, for example, if it were determined a family needed a 6,000-watt system to power their home (24 solar panels), it would cost $20,555, less $6,166 for the portion of the tax credit, making the total out-of-pocket cost to the homeowner $14,389. The return on investment period is about 10 years.

Community solar farms allow people who live in a home that is not suitable for solar, but are interested in the option, to pursue the idea. In addition, the shares are portable so if someone purchases into the farm and decides to move, they can take those shares with them or sell them.

"That's the key to a community solar farm … somebody may live in an apartment or may have a house that doesn't face the right direction or live in the woods and have lots of trees and do not want to cut them, but want solar," Piper said. "Those are the perfect candidates."

Tarantino, who was concerned about what the farm would look like, said the solar array will be built on a slope in the field, making it less visible from the road. In addition, she said, she plans to grow hops on trellises closer to the road to further block the panels from view.

An informational meeting was held June 29 at the Lincolnville Improvement Association Building to generate interest in participating in the project. Piper said as a result of that meeting one person has signed up. A second meeting is planned for Thursday, July 14, in Bath.

"It's like buying stock. You have ownership in this thing, but it's not tangible," he said. "It shows up on the CMP bill how much you use and then it will show another meter with how much kilowatt hours are produced each month."

The town of Lincolnville, in a separate project, is putting out a request for proposal to see how much a system would cost to operate the Town Office, Lincolnville Fire Station, Lincolnville Beach Fire Station, on the decorative sidewalk lights at the beach, the sand/salt storage building, the Breezemere Park bandstand and the pier.

Piper and his son Danny started Sundog Solar six years ago and employ 10 people. For more information about becoming involved in the community farm and other solar options, visit sundog.solar.

Courier Publications Editor Kim Lincoln can be reached at 236-8511 or by email at klincoln@villagesoup.com.