Solar can be a boon for Maine's schools

By The Republican Journal Editorial Board | Nov 07, 2019

Maine is poised to see a new dawn for solar power projects, and we support Belfast's efforts to be a part of that new day.

In this issue, we have a story about the newly launched solar project at Islesboro Central School, which will provide the school with 40% of its electricity needs, according to Head of School Charles Hamm. The project was designed and installed by ReVision Energy of Liberty.

The project originated in 2017 with the donation of used solar equipment to create an educational array at the school. ReVision Energy employees volunteered their labor to remove the donated solar panels from their original home and, with a few extra panels added, reinstalled them at the school. The result was a functional 2.5-kilowatt solar array on a work shed that inspired the school community to pursue a project with greater impact.

After discussion of location and system sizing with the school’s facilities committee, School Committee and community members, the new school project was nearly unanimously approved at a special town meeting in August 2018.

According to ReVision Energy, the 65.1-kilowatt grid-tied solar array, paired with four SolarEdge inverters, is designed to produce more than 80,000 kilowatt-hours of electricity annually. As a grid-tied system, any electricity it produces goes back to the grid, where it is then distributed to the school and neighboring households on the island, and the entire value of the kilowatt hours sent back to the grid is then credited against the school’s utility bills.

In addition, the curriculum at ICS includes a strong focus on best practices regarding sustainability. The new solar array adds a source of study for students, shrinks the school's carbon footprint, and takes advantage of clean, renewable energy.

We also applaud the three pieces of legislation facilitating development of solar power and other forms of renewable energy signed into law by Democratic Gov. Janet Mills in June. Among them is a measure, titled "An Act to Promote Solar Energy Projects and Distributed Generation Resources in Maine," which, according to the Governor's Office, "will incentivize at least 375 megawatts (MW) of new distributed generation in Maine, which is expected to be primarily solar photovoltaic (PV) development for projects under 5 MW. The bill creates two separate but complementary incentives, one for commercial and institutional customers and another for community shared projects .... "

According to the bill's sponsor, Sen. Dana Dow, R-Lincoln, “This new law allows medium-sized projects like schools and municipalities to get into the solar market and many larger solar companies are excited about the jobs it will create here in Maine.”

Among those who are excited about the possibility of solar projects here in Belfast are students at Belfast Area High School. As we reported back in June, Rowan Walsh, then a senior at the school, and Harmony Dawson, a junior at the time of our story, were among Belfast students who, inspired by Mount Desert Island High School's rooftop solar array and Portland rallies for solar projects, proposed that Belfast should be next.

The story quoted Walsh as saying that Sundog Solar of Searsport, contractor for 1,350 panels at MDI High School, estimates that a power purchase agreement with the installation of 1,282 panels atop BAHS would save the district roughly $1 million over 30 years.

We understand that the RSU 71 Board of Directors has so far taken no action on a potential solar project for BAHS. We would encourage the directors, as well as school administrators, to involve students in helping to develop such a project, for its financial and environmental benefits, and also for the educational opportunities it could provide.

And we would encourage both Mount View and Searsport high schools to pursue solar projects of their own, for the educational, as well as the financial benefits they can provide. The Maine Municipal Bond Bank is one place they might look for funds, and the incentives in the new legislation mentioned above is another.

We also support Belfast's Planning and Development Office in its work to amend the city's zoning ordinances to accommodate large-scale solar developments. The new ordinance(s) are expected to be presented to City Council Dec. 18 for a first reading.

Ed. note: The final paragraph of this editorial has been changed to correct a reporting error concerning the action being taken by Belfast's Planning and Development Office.

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