Edgecomb Solar Farm first community owned in Maine

Wed, 08/12/2015 - 4:00pm

    It’s the first, and likely won’t be the last member-owned solar farm in Maine. The Edgecomb Community Solar Farm Association began providing electricity to the grid on July 31 and held a ceremony Aug. 6 celebrating its beginning.

    The association is using electricity produced from 182 solar panels attached to Judy Sandick and David Nutt’s farm in Edgecomb. The couple are partners in the nine-member association. The partners are all Lincoln County residents who are concerned about fossil fuel’s impact on climate change. The solar farm generates enough clean and renewable electricity for its members’ yearly use.

    The association began in January with the nine members looking to reduce their carbon footprint. They all met at The Mid-Coast Green Collaborative Initiative in Damariscotta. They heard about ReVision Energy — a regional mechanical contracting company specializing in renewable energy options — plans to “solarize” central Lincoln County.

    For Nutt, the opportunity to use a clean, renewable and affordable energy source was a golden opportunity to protect the environment.

    “We need to wean ourselves from carbon producing energy sources,” Nutt said in front of a bank of solar panels during the ceremony held at his family’s farm on River Road. “It’s been clearly demonstrated that solar is viable, and proven to be a good economic investment. But this is more about an investment in our children’s future.”

    The association has a 25-year agreement to operate the solar farm. The association’s initial financial investment ranged between $10,000 to $30,000 per member to purchase the solar panels, according to ReVision Energy Liberty branch manager John Luft. Nutt said it will take 10 years to pay for the association’s investment.

    Each member assumes a percentage of the association’s cost. The members are not equal partners.

    The electricity generated is monitored by a Central Maine Power meter and transmitted to the regional power grid. Each member is a CMP customer. The company credits the members’ bills for the privately produced electricity. Nutt expects his monthly electrical bill reduced from $80 to around $10-$15 per month.

    For association member Peter Arnold of Damariscotta, the green energy initiative is something he’s been wanting to do for decades. Arnold is excited about his involvement in a venture that has the potential to change how the U.S. produces electricity.

    “I’m so excited to watch the meters’ dials go round and round, and know each kilowatt I own is coming to my account,” Arnold said. “I’ve waited for years for something like this. I’d become cynical that significant change would never happen. But now I’m excited to be a small part of this amazing adventure.”

    This is the second solar farm in Maine developed by ReVision Energy. The first was constructed in 2013 in Paris. The first solar farm was built using an Efficiency Maine grant. ReVision Energy leases the solar panels to that association’s members.

    The firm has four future association-owned Maine solar power projects in the works. ReVision Energy is working with Morris Farm in Wiscasset, a commercial business in Rockland for 1,100 solar panels, and projects in Vassalboro and Wayne.

    According to Luft, the demand for solar powered energy in Maine has grown substantially in the past decade. In 2004, ReVision Energy — which has four offices statewide — had four employees. It now has 101. Luft expects 2016 to be another busy year for his firm. He expects more association-owned solar farms, like the one in Edgecomb, will be the wave of the future.

    “There’s a bit of a stampede now,” he said. “The federal 30 percent tax credit expires next year. I expect it to be insane in 2016 with everybody trying to take advantage of the tax credit before (it expires).”

    Central Maine Power doesn’t see the emerging industry as a competitor. CMP spokesman John Carroll said the public utility views the emergence of solar farms as an ally in the parent company’s effort to fight climate change.

    CMP is a subsidiary of Iberdola USA, a global company based in Spain. Carroll described Iberdola USA as the U.S’s second largest wind power company. The wind power giant has a commitment to addressing climate change, he said. Carroll explained the parent company is working towards becoming carbon neutral by 2050, and reducing its carbon footprint 50 percent by 2030.

    “People often talk about getting off the grid,” Carroll said. “I see the grid as a technology that can be shared to reach a common benefit of displacing society’s dependence on carbon fuels. This is a great step forward.”

    While Nutt is pleased to participate in the initiative, he is frustrated with restrictions state law places on solar power. Maine law restricts associations, like the ECSFA, to nine members, and prohibits sale of excess electricity for profit.

    “The state’s energy policy doesn’t see the potential of solar power or believe in man-made climate change. It’s all too political, and that’s why the law limits solar power,” Nutt said.

    Other ECSFA members include Lynne and Christopher Gilbert of Bristol, Jan and Bob Johns of Round Pond, Ellie and Lynn Gelhar of Bremen, Kate Josephs of Damariscotta, Dick Chutter of Round Pond, and Dick Chase of Newcastle.