BELFAST — City Councilors approved a contract to sell solar credits produced at its Crocker Road solar array through a new company at their July 6 meeting. They also approved a request to contract with ReVision Energy to purchase net energy billing credits to cover the city’s energy costs beyond what it consumes from its solar arrays.

The Crocker Road solar array is the only solar array the city owns, and it produces more energy than the city uses, Economic Development Director Thomas Kittredge said. Since 2019, the city has been selling its excess energy production through ReVision, but the company recently recommended that the city switch to Knollwood Energy for that purpose.

Selling solar excess energy from solar fields is not ReVision’s specialty or primary focus, which is probably why the company recommended Knollwood, Kittredge said.

“When the people that you currently have doing the work for you introduce you to someone else, you probably need to listen … and take this advice …,” Mayor Eric Sanders said.

Last year the Crocker Road array generated 1,091,288 kilowatts per hour, he said. The city received a check July 21, 2020, in the amount of $24,434.27 for the previous year’s total energy sale, resulting in a $23.57 value per one renewable energy credit. One renewable energy credit is generated for every 1,000 kilowatt hours of electricity.

Knollwood, established in 2006, is one of the largest companies in the Northeast with expertise in selling renewable energy credits, according to its website.

Kittredge presented two sales options to councilors. In one, the renewable energy credit price would fluctuate with the market but have a flat commission rate of $1.50 per credit. The other was a fixed price of $34 per renewable energy credit.

“So you’re trading perhaps some upside with a guaranteed price,” Kittredge said, pointing to the difference between the two options.

The first option could result in a price per renewable energy credit above or below the $34 per credit offered with the second option. Councilors decided to approve the first option for prices that fluctuate with the market.

Kittredge said proceeds from the renewable energy credit program have been going toward energy efficiency programs. Councilor Mike Hurley said he thinks it is a good thing that the city is not having to pay some electricity costs and this validates the council’s decision to build the solar field in the first place.

“Who thought back when we were doing this that there would be renewable energy credits that would be sending us checks rather than us sending checks to electric companies,” Hurley said. “… It further vindicates those decisions that they were not just political decisions but financial decisions that benefit the city greatly.”

In other business, councilors agreed to request a net energy billing credits contract from ReVision after the company approached the city with the idea, Kittredge said. The city’s three solar arrays are expected to produce a combined 1,338,982 kilowatts per hour annually, which does not cover the amount of electricity the city uses yearly.

Billing credits would be purchased from solar arrays within Central Maine Power, Kittredge said. The city will purchase billing credits to cover about 85% of its electricity usage to avoid purchasing more credits than it can use. The billing credits are regulated by the Maine Public Utilities Commission.

The value of billing credits is recalculated yearly, according to the previous year’s supply and delivery of typical commercial electricity costs, he said. The billing credits fluctuate according the energy market.

The contract would be for 20 years beginning in late 2022. The city would purchase the billing credits at a 20% fixed discount to their actual value, he said. This would result in approximately a 17% reduction in current electricity costs. There are no upfront costs to participate in the agreement.

The city would purchase about $85,000 worth of billing credits per year, saving about $17,000 per year, according to ReVision estimates.

The solar array on top of the city’s fire station and the solar array located on the city’s closed Pitcher Road landfill are owned by ReVision but the city has a power purchase agreement for electricity generated by those solar panels.

City Councilor Mike Hurley commented that when councilors were proposing the idea of the solar fields and panels on the fire station roof “only a very few short years ago, … it was not a popular or welcomed suggestion at the time. … It’s been an amazingly good thing for the people of Belfast in every possible way.”

Councilors will approve a contract for the billing credits at a future meeting when they have more accurate numbers regarding how much the city will spend and save per year by purchasing the billing credits.