November 08, 2019
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Vernal pool may derail school district plan to build solar farm

Kevin Bennett | BDN
Kevin Bennett | BDN
ReVision Energy employees connect wiring on a pair of solar collectors at a Camden home in this 2011 file photo. Camden school officials worry a vernal pool could spoil plans to develop a solar farm next to the local high school.

CAMDEN, Maine — Two months ago, the town of Camden was shot down in its bid to purchase state-owned land with the intention of building a municipal solar farm.

But officials in the local school district have a solar farm plan of their own. They just hope a vernal pool doesn’t squash the possibility of the proposal coming to fruition.

“It’s still up in the air. There are a lot of people invested in the concept and the idea, and we’re trying to make it happen,” School Administrative District 28 and Five Town Community School District Superintendent Maria Libby said Wednesday.

District officials are working with ReVision Energy and Aligned Climate Capital on a proposal to use 14 acres, owned by the school district, adjacent to Camden Hills Regional High School for a 1- to 1.5-megawatt solar farm.

The solar farm would be built by ReVision Energy, financed and owned by Aligned Climate Capital and would provide electricity to the high school and potentially other schools within the district, Libby said. The school board gave approval last month for school officials to pursue the project on land owned by the school district.

However, an engineer surveying the land discovered a vernal pool located on the property that is being eyed for the project, which could derail the solar farm from taking shape, Libby said.

Vernal pools are depressions in the ground that contain water for part of the year and can sometimes be an important habitat for the surrounding ecosystem, according to the Maine Department of Environmental Protection.

The presence of the vernal pool likely will limit the acreage that can be developed for the solar farm. A surveyor will map out the property over the next couple of weeks to determine how much of the land is developable.

However, Libby said the engineer has a hunch that the amount of usable land will be too small to make a solar project “worth it” for investors.

“The vernal pool is a game changer in our ability to use as much of that land as we had hoped,” Libby said. “We might not have enough usable land to have it be a feasible project anymore.”

In anticipation of the site next to the high school not being usable, Libby said district officials and their partners in the project are looking for other plots of land in the area where a solar farm potentially could be developed.

“Ideally we would find something large enough that could power all five of our towns’ schools.” she said. “We’re searching for an alternative piece of land where we could do the same project and see a savings in our electrical cost.”

Through the solar farm project, the school district would purchase electricity from Aligned Climate Capital for about three cents per kilowatt-hour less than the district is currently paying for standard electricity.

Libby said having a large-scale solar project would benefit the district both financially through cost savings and as an educational tool for students.

“We think it’s so important for students and their education. Our students are going to potentially live in a world where renewable sources of energy are more and more important,” Libby said. “For them to see that happening firsthand, and to see the school make an effort to find renewable energy sources, I think it’s a great model.”

The solar farm proposal is not the first time the Camden-area district has put initiatives in place that prioritize renewable energy and reducing its carbon footprint.

Camden Hills Regional High School has a wind turbine and mounted roof solar panels providing some electricity for the school. The new Camden-Rockport Middle School, which is under construction, will be heated using thermal energy from the nearby sewer treatment facility. The school also is being built to ensure it can hold mounted solar panels, Libby said.

Additionally, across the district, food scraps are composted and students use metal utensils rather than plastic, she said.

“We’ve done a lot of different initiatives at our school to have a smaller footprint,” Libby said. “Our goal would ultimately have [our facilities be] net-zero [in energy consumption.]”

Five Town CSD includes Camden Hills Regional High School, which serves students in grades nine through 12 from Camden, Rockport, Appleton, Hope and Lincolnville. SAD 28 serves the communities of Camden and Rockport through the Camden-Rockport Elementary School and the Camden-Rockport Middle School.

 



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