The Lincolnville Central School Committee hopes to soon be in contract with a new solar farm to be built less than a mile from the school.

If all goes as planned, the school will purchase electricity generated by SunRaise's four-megawatt solar project to be built on Searsmont Road. The company completed a five-megawatt solar farm in Belfast in December 2020.

The cost of the electricity will be at a 15% discount from Central Maine Power rates and will save the school around $100,000 over 20 years, according to School Committee member John Williams.

Williams is serving his first term on the Lincolnville School Committee. He was a member of the town's energy team, which led the effort to power municipal buildings with solar energy. Voters approved a 43-kilowatt solar installation at the Lincolnville Center Fire Station, which began operation in 2017.

The Lincolnville Central School's annual electricity use is around 200,000 kwh, with the bill around $5,000 per year, according to School Union 69 Superintendent Kate Clark

Usage at the school used to be as high as 340,000 kwh annually. Principal Paul Russo has had new controls for heat and lighting installed at the school, and this and other measures knocked energy usage down, Williams said.

SunRaise Investments obtained approval from the Lincolnville Planning Board in August 2020 to develop a solar farm located about a quarter-mile from Lincolnville Center.

At around the same time, the school committee voted to research solar. The committee began by looking at six different options, from owning its own solar panels located on school or town land, to purchasing electricity through solar farms.

Williams documented his research on the six options, in the areas of initial costs, annual savings on electricity, whether the plan involved school or local land, school financing and insurance, and an estimate of savings over 20 years.

A PowerPoint presentation he made contrasted the simplicity of buying discounted electricity from a solar farm with the complexity of arranging to build a solar array on school or town land, and then eventually buying the array.

While financing a solar array on school or town property, and eventually buying it provides the highest savings over 20 years, the process involves numerous complications, according to Williams.

By October 2020, school committee members agreed on narrowing down the choices to two companies, SunRaise and nexamp, which build and operate solar farms and contract to sell their electricity at discounted rates.

The school committee obtained contracts from both and had them reviewed by attorneys for the school. Attorneys recommended the SunRaise contract.

Williams "has worked really hard and done a lot of research. and he has been very involved in this project," Clark said. "With the pandemic and my first year as a superintendent, I can’t see that we would have gotten here without John."

While the contract is not yet a done deal, there is excitement about contracting with SunRaise because the solar farm is in Lincolnville, according to Clark.

In addition to saving money on electricity and getting energy from a renewable resource, SunRaise solar is offering to provide educational opportunities for the school and students will be able to visit the solar farm, she said.