Stockton considers power shift

By Stephanie Grinnell | Sep 12, 2017
Photo by: Stephanie Grinnell Chuck Piper of Sundog Solar, left, speaks to Selectmen Tom Fraser, Peter Curley and Betsy Bradley about a proposal to install solar panels on the town garage roof.

Stockton Springs could be the next Waldo County town to “go solar.”

Selectmen on Sept. 7 heard a proposal from Sundog Solar co-owner Chuck Piper to install 105 photovoltaic panels on the roof of the town garage that would generate enough solar electricity to offset use at the Town Office, public works garage, fire department, ballpark and harbor.

While the power generated by the panels would not be directly used in Stockton Springs, it would be enough to reduce the town's electricity bills through solar credits, Piper said. If there is a power outage, he said town facilities will still lose power.

Piper noted a running total of kilowatts produced by the system will be tracked and made available to the town and public. It is expected the 31.5-kW array will produce about 42,500 kW hours per year, according to paperwork provided by Piper. Typical use by the town is about 35,500 kWh, which leaves some power “left over” that could be used to operate mini-split heat pumps, he said. The cost of the heat pumps is not included in the solar proposal.

If approved, the town will enter into a power purchase agreement, or PPA, with a Sundog Solar subsidiary called Stockton Springs Solar LLC. The town would purchase electricity at a discounted rate, saving an estimated $4,450 in cumulative utility charges in the initial six years.

“It's a free system for the town the first six years,” Piper said.

The PPA also will allow the town to purchase the panels and inverter equipment in the seventh year at fair market value, estimated to be around $40,000, considering depreciation. The actual value of the system would be determined by an independent third party, according to Piper.

Not everyone was looking at the bottom line. One resident urged selectmen to consider the environmental and moral benefits of solar power generation over the financial aspects. But, Selectman Peter Curley noted, “the bottom line still is dollars and cents.” He asked why the town would still pay an electric bill if it is producing power with the solar panels. Piper explained the town would switch its provider from Central Maine Power Co. to the private entity, which reduces the cost but still requires the electricity to be purchased. Town Manager Courtney O'Donnell put it simply: “We still pay for power but it's cheaper.”

The town is not required to purchase the solar panels and equipment and could continue to purchase power produced by it at a reduced rate, but the long-term savings would be less, Piper said. The system would pay for itself in its 13th year, according to Sundog's proposal.

Selectmen Tom Fraser and Betsy Bradley appeared to have a positive reaction to the proposal.

“We'll never not be saving money,” Bradley said.

Expected cost increases are putting some pressure on selectmen.

“The longer we drag our feet, the more expensive (the project will be),” Fraser said.

Piper said the cost of panels already has increased some and new government rules placing tariffs on imported panels could be in place by the end of the year. But, he noted, other risks are few.

“There's no moving parts, very little that can go wrong with solar panels,” Piper said.

O'Donnell said she does not think entering a PPA will require a town meeting but said she would be sure before any action is taken by selectmen. The issue is expected to be included on the Sept. 21 agenda.

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Stephanie Grinnell
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Stephanie is editor of The Republican Journal in Belfast. She previously served as editor of Camden Herald following its return in April 2012.

Stephanie also was editor of VillageSoup's Capital Weekly in Augusta and has nearly a decade of experience in the newspaper business ranging from southern and central Maine to Waldo County.

Outside the office, she enjoys reading, cooking and gardening.

Stephanie lives in Washington with her husband Jeff, four children, a dog named Chewbacca, a rabbit and chickens.

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