Stockton sees bright future in solar

By Stephanie Grinnell | Sep 29, 2017

Stockton Springs — With lingering questions answered to their satisfaction, selectmen agreed Sept. 28 to enter into a power purchase agreement with Sundog Solar LLC.

The agreement will result in the installation of 105 photovoltaic panels on the metal Public Works garage roof, which will supply enough electricity to offset use at that building, as well as at the Town Office, ballpark, harbor and Fire Department. It is a grid-tied system, which means if there is a power outage, those locations will still lose power, according to Sundog Solar co-owner Chuck Piper.

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.

The town will enter into a power purchase agreement, or PPA, with a Sundog Solar subsidiary called Stockton Springs Solar LLC. The town will purchase electricity at a discounted rate, saving an estimated $4,450 in cumulative utility charges in the initial six years and more than $100,000 over 30 years. The subsidiary company making the intial equipment purchase benefits by receiving tax credits, Piper said, which the town can't claim because it is a municipality.

"We're going to take the tax credit," he 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. He said he does not know who that third party will be but said it would be a solar appraisal company. The fair market value can be stipulated in the PPA to be no greater than the initial cost, Piper said. He noted other towns also have raised concerns that the cost of the system might increase, rather than depreciate as predicted.

Piper explained the town would switch its provider 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 sought more information following Piper's initial presentation Sept. 7. Selectman Betsy Bradley questioned the shorter 12-year warranty for the inverters when a 25-year warranty is available for other models and requested replacement costs for a failed inverter. Piper said a longer warranty is available but cautioned technology is moving at a rapid pace, which may mean a better inverter could be available after 12 years if an original fails.

"I wouldn't warranty this one because you can purchase a better one after 13 years," Piper said. "I wouldn't spend the extra money for the extended warranty."

He said each inverter — it is estimated the town will require two or three — would cost nearly $2,700 to replace. Purchase of extended warranties for three inverters would add about $2,400 to the bottom line, he estimated.

Selectmen were under some pressure to make a decision about the proposal, as the cost of solar panels is expected to rise in November. Piper said expected tariffs on foreign-manufactured panels will increase the price but if he is able to place an order with his supplier soon, he can guarantee the price quoted.

Town Manager Courtney O'Donnell said she was able to confirm with the town attorney that a town-wide vote is not required to approve the PPA.

"We do not need to go to town meeting to approve this project," she said. "So you could move forward and have the attorneys go over the PPA contract. ... I would recommend it (entering into the PPA)."

While the PPA contract is being drafted, the town and Sundog will sign a memorandum of understanding, which indicates town officials agree to enter into and sign the PPA when it is ready. The memorandum allows Sundog to proceed before the PPA is in place, O'Donnell noted.

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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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