Brunswick selects Portland company for solar energy program

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BRUNSWICK — The town has selected ReVision Energy of Portland as its partner for the Solarize Brunswick program.

The Solarize program, which was launched this summer, is a way for residential and commercial customers to purchase solar energy equipment at a lower cost through a town-facilitated bulk purchase.

What does that mean for Brunswick ratepayers?

In the words of Alex Anesko, chairman of the Recycling & Sustainability Committee: “a really good economic deal.”

The program works by securing a large number of people who will commit at the same time to purchase solar arrays from a single provider. The guarantee allows the company to offer a more favorable pricing scheme. 

To choose a company, the Brunswick Town Council issued a request for proposals in July, and appointed a selection committee to vet the bids.

Committee members included Anesko; Councilor Steve Walker; Keisha Payson, the sustainability coordinator of Bowdoin College; Bill Ferdinand, a lawyer with Eaton Peabody; Ben Hemberger, who owns a construction company; and Linda Smith, the town’s business development manager.

Four companies responded with proposals, according to Smith. But ReVision’s “track record in the community” set it apart from the competitors, she said.

“ReVision already had a presence in Brunswick, they had already done over 50 installations here, and none of the other bidders had that kind of presence,” she said.

The other companies who submitted bids were Heliotropics Technologies of Boothbay, Sundog Solar of Searsport, and a joint proposal from Assured Solar and Insource Renewables, of North Yarmouth and Pittsfield, respectively.

Assured Solar and Insource Renewables are the provider for Freeport’s Solarize program, which was the first town-facilitated bulk purchase in the state.

But Brunswick’s selection committee argues that ReVision’s pricing scheme will offer Solarize customers here the best deal.

ReVision offered five tiers of pricing, Anesko said, based on how much solar capacity the company installs in Brunswick.

The first tier, which is up to 50 kw of total installed capacity, has a price per watt of $3.15. For each extra 50 kw of capacity ReVision installs, the price per watt drops 3 cents.

Anesko said he is confident the town will surpass the fifth tier, or have more than 200 kw of capacity installed.

“I have 240 people on my (potential interest) list,” he said. “Thirty to forty of those are institutions of one sort or another … we have the potential in Brunswick to have some larger installations be part of our Solarize pool.”

Anesko said the discount through the Solarize program makes buying a solar array “a little more attractive.”

What really makes the purchase competitive, he argues, is the 30 percent federal tax credit customers are eligible for to cover the upfront costs of buying solar equipment.

That tax credit expires in December 2016.

The looming federal deadline added “urgency” to getting Brunswick’s Solarize program off the ground, Anesko said, so customers could get the best deal for buying solar.

Brunswick’s deadline to enroll in the Solarize program is Dec. 31.

The two incentives together amount to a 13-14 year payoff period for a solar installation, according to Anesko.

“It makes good economic sense. If you can pay for the system up front … you’re going to make your money back,” he said. “On top of that, more and more people want to find ways to do something in the face of … climate change.”

“Every watt you produce from your solar array offsets use of natural gas in Maine,” he added.

About 20 percent of Maine’s electricity comes from burning natural gas, according to data from the U.S. Energy Information Administration.

Also, “studies that show (solar arrays) add value to your house – almost dollar for dollar,” he said.

Now that the town has selected an installer, the Solarize team will organize two “get-togethers,” Smith said, for people who have said they want to meet with representatives from ReVision.

There, people can sign up for the company to come and assess their home’s viability for a solar array.

Smith said the events will probably be held in mid-October and early November.

The launch events will be the town’s “hand-off” to ReVision, she said.

She estimates she spent about two weeks working on organizing the Solarize program. She was the only town staff member assigned to the project.

“The committee had done a terrific amount of the work in trying to keep staff time and costs down,” she said. “They were so prepared, and everybody had done their homework … they made it possible for the town to put in a minimal level of effort and get a really high quality return.”

Freeport spent about 200 hours of staff time getting their program off the ground, according to Smith.

Freeport’s Solarize program already has about 250 kw of solar capacity installed, Anesko said.

“I’m confident Brunswick can at least meet a number like that,” he added.

Walter Wuthmann can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 100 or Follow Walter on Twitter: @wwuthmann.

Brunswick/Harpswell reporter for The Forecaster. Bowdoin College grad, San Francisco Bay Area native. Follow for municipal, school, community, and environmental news from the Midcoast.