BAR HARBOR, Maine — With local voters having weighed in on the matter this past week, Bar Harbor has joined several other towns around the state interested in using solar power to help meet their community’s electricity needs.
The 87-66 vote at Bar Harbor’s annual town meeting authorized the town to pursue two solar installation projects with Revision Energy, which has offices in Liberty, Portland and Exeter, New Hampshire. One installation would provide power to the town’s new public works building off Crooked Road. The other would function as a community solar farm, providing power to nine local households.
Gary Friedman, vice chairman of the elected Town Council, said Saturday that concerns about the proposal centered mainly on putting panels on the town’s salt shed, also located at the public works site. While all local property taxpayers would benefit financially from having the public works building powered with solar, the other installation would be on town property but would benefit only a small fraction of the town’s residents, he said in explaining the concerns.
Friedman, who has been a proponent of the projects, said that the initial community farm installation — whether on the salt shed roof or somewhere else — could serve as a pilot project for a larger project in the future. He said the town owns a large parcel of land in the local village of Salisbury Cove, where a larger installation could power “several hundred” homes and businesses.
“I want to see this snowball and take off,” Friedman said of expanding the use of solar power in Bar Harbor and throughout the state. “It’s good for the economy and good for the environment.”
Interest in pursuing community solar projects has been on the rise in Maine. Belfast had 180 panels installed on its fire station over the winter while, according to Friedman, the town of Freeport is helping to arrange group purchases of solar panels that local residents would have installed on their properties. Bangor, Damariscotta, Edgecomb, Scarborough and South Portland are among other cities and towns in Maine that reportedly are considering municipal solar projects.
Higher learning institutions that have installed or hope to install solar arrays to help meet their energy needs include Bowdoin College in Brunswick, Thomas College in Waterville, Unity College in Unity and College of the Atlantic in Bar Harbor. Friedman said he closely consulted with COA officials about their solar energy facilities while researching possibilities the town could pursue.
Directly involved in most of these projects is ReVision Energy, which just last year brought Maine’s first community solar farm online in Paris. That solar farm, located on private property at Sunnycroft Farm, serves nine residential shareholders spread throughout western and southern Maine who cannot install solar panels directly at their properties.
“We are the only company doing this in Maine right now,” ReVision’s Sue Jones said Friday of the smaller-scale municipal and community projects.
Though interest in solar energy seems to coincide with an increase in oil prices, Jones said solar panel technology has improved in recent years and the price of panels has come down. She said that, as with the Paris facility, customers can be served by arrays many miles away, enabling solar farms to be built anywhere in Maine that has access to the electrical distribution grid.
“Maine has a fairly robust solar capacity,” Jones said, referring to the average amount of sunlight that shines directly on the state. “Germany has far more solar [projects] than we have [in Maine] but far less capacity.”
Friedman said he hopes the Bar Harbor projects, which will require subsequent approval by the Town Council before any panels are installed, can be brought to fruition soon. The panels on the public works building likely will be installed and brought online in 2015, he said. The community solar farm also could be realized this calendar year, he added, if a suitable municipal site and nine local residential shareholders can be lined up relatively quickly.
“We saw this as an opportunity for local communities to take the lead” on a statewide energy issue, Friedman said.
The local community solar farm, he added, would be the first one in the state that is located on municipal property, rather than on private land.
“There’s so much we could do in Bar Harbor to support this [issue],” Friedman said.