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Large York County solar projects under way

Casey Conley | Foster’s Daily Democrat

SOUTH BERWICK, Maine — Two of the largest solar energy projects in Southern Maine got under way this month in South Berwick and York.

The 38kW system at the South Berwick Public Library consists of 144 roof-mounted solar panels. The 28kW system atop the York Beach fire station includes 104 solar panels.

Depending on the season and other factors, each solar array should provide most of the power for each respective building’s needs. Excess power produced during peak times will go back into the grid, earning credits against each town’s electricity bills, said Jennifer Hatch, marketing manager for project contractor ReVision Energy.

“They are both pretty good-sized projects for Maine,” Hatch said in a recent interview. “There are not that many that are around the 20-40 kW range … but they are becoming more popular, especially with municipalities.”

Both projects were paid for using federal money that originated with the 2009 American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, also known as the “stimulus,” and administered through six York County towns under the Seacoast Energy Initiative. The Town of South Berwick is fiscal agent for the effort.

The initial stimulus program paid for home weatherization loans issued to Maine residents for efficiency upgrades. As the principal on those loans is paid back, new funding became available for municipal energy efficiency projects, said Michael Stoddard, executive director of Efficiency Maine

The York and South Berwick projects were completely paid for through the grant program, said South Berwick Town Manager Perry Ellsworth. There is no cost to taxpayers in either community.

Additional information about the project, including the cost of each array and potential savings for each town, will be available next month as part of a broader news release about the project, Ellsworth said.

The South Berwick project will produce about 47,500 kWh of electricity a year while the York Beach project will produce about 35,000 kWh a year. A typical home might use about 10,500 kWh a year, Hatch said.

The South Berwick library is already more efficient than most municipal buildings. The former church converted into a library more than two years ago has a geothermal heating and cooling system. Library Director Karen Eger said that system requires a lot of energy.

“At the end of fundraising for new library building, I watched the electric bills mount because of the geothermal system. The pumps run 24 hours a day, so the electric bills were quite high,” she said, adding that the panels will reduce or eliminate those costs.

In addition to the energy savings, officials hope the solar projects raise awareness about the benefits and viability of solar power.

Stephen Burns, York’s interim town manager, hopes the York Beach project will show that solar energy is viable even with very old buildings such as the fire station.

“I think its just going to be a very nice demonstration to do something with a public space that’s innovative, that improves the town’s performance and hopefully saves some money and reduces its carbon footprint,” he said this week.

Crews have already begun installing solar panels on the South Berwick library, and they’re scheduled to begin the installation at York Beach next week. Both projects should be finished by the end of the month.

“To work in a building that is using these renewable energies and to be living in a town that supports this kind of infrastructure is very exciting to me personally and deeply satisfying,” Eger said.


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