Harpswell looking to join regional solar energy program

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HARPSWELL — More Mid-Coast towns are trying to soak up the sun’s energy.

Following similar programs in Brunswick and Freeport, the Mid Coast Economic Development District, a regional community development organization, is hoping to bring discounted residential and commercial solar energy purchases to 20 coastal towns.

Bill Najpauer, who is the director of planning and development for MCEDD, presented the program to Harpswell selectmen Dec. 17.

MCEDD’s solarize program is meant to reduce the cost of purchasing solar equipment by offering a municipally facilitated bulk purchase from a solar supplier, similar to the programs in Brunswick and Freeport.

But where Brunswick and Freeport issued a request for proposals and vetted responses on the town level, Najpaeur explained, MCEDD would organize the RFP for all 20 towns in its region.

After selecting a bid, Harpswell residents could then get home evaluations from the selected company and buy solar equipment at a discounted rate.

Najpauer said the RFP has already been issued, and proposals are due Jan. 8. 

He said the RFP required at least a three-tier price scheme, where the price-per-kilowatt of electricity goes down as the capacity installed goes up.

“We already have 195 people on our sign-up list,” he told selectmen.

Furthermore, this may be the last year to take advantage of a hefty federal tax credit that’s set to expire in December 2016, he added.

The other towns MCEDD is offering the program to are Arrowsic, Bath, Bowdoin, Bowdoinham, Georgetown, Phippsburg, Richmond, Topsham, West Bath, Woolwich, Wiscasset, Camden, Rockport, Rockland, Thomaston, Belmont, Lincolnville, Northport and Searsmont.

Najpauer’s presentation was met with guarded approval from selectmen.

Selectman Elinor Multer said she’d like to see a list of the people MCEDD had appointed to its selection committee, to make sure they were qualified to vet solar proposals.

She also wanted to see more specific criteria in the RFP to evaluate a company’s “financial stability,” citing the widely-publicized 2011 bankruptcy of solar panel manufacturer Solyndra.

Selectman Kevin Johnson asked Najpauer about the expected pay back period of purchasing a solar array. Najpauer responded that there’s no fixed number, but as a “general rule,” it is expected that a system will pay for itself in 12-15 years.

“(We) appreciate that MCEDD has stepped up,” said Town Administrator Kristi Eiane. She said the potential benefit in cost savings was significant.

“It’s a win-win for us,” she said.

Harpswell last year paid $7,110 in dues to be a part of MCEDD. Next year’s dues are estimated to be just less than $6,000.

Najpauer said he expects four or five companies to respond to the RFP, and said it’s likely they may choose multiple installers to reach MCEDD’s entire coverage area.

MCEDD’s RFP can be seen online on the city of Bath’s website, cityofbath.com.

Walter Wuthmann can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 100 or wwuthmann@theforecaster.net. 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.