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Wind, solar, hydro power all up for discussion with Camden Select Board

CAMDEN – Camden will dive into renewable energy conversations Tuesday evening, Jan. 7, at a regularly scheduled Select Board meeting, as the town explores solar power options for municipal operations, as well as wind and hydro energy. It’s not a new topic for the Select Board, but the outline provided by Town Manager Audra Caler-Bell drills into the details the town needs to consider before committing to any options.

Citizens, including those serving on the Camden Energy and Sustainability Committee, have been urging the town to reduce its reliance on oil; last year, Camden had made a decisive move toward building a solar farm, making a real estate offer on land in another town (the landowner ultimately went with a different buyer), and has researched investing in other available solar farms.

Camden also currently has a power purchase agreement with a ReVision Energy, resting on a solar panel installation at the municipally owned Sagamore Farm bordering the Camden Hills State Park.

“The Town has been presented with several possibilities for converting our electricity use to solar or other forms of renewable energy,” wrote Caler-Bell, in a Jan. 7 memo to the board. “In addition to assessing the financial implications, the following environmental outcomes and values have also been key factors in evaluating which options will work best for the Town:

“Will it contribute to the development of solar energy within the state and push the grid toward a greater proportion of renewable energy?

“Will it contribute to the development of solar energy on marginal land as opposed to prime agricultural land or land that is best suited for other types of development or conservation?

“Is it a regional/collaborative effort with other communities?

“Does it have the potential to off-set a significant portion, or all, of the Town’s energy use with renewable energy?

“ Will the town ultimately be responsible for owning and maintaining the power generating infrastructure or be an investor in plant that will be owned by another entity?”

At the Jan. 7 meeting, to be held in the John French Meeting Room on Washington Street, the Select Board will advance the discussion, and consider possible in-town solar panel installation sites, including the Camden Public Safety building roof, the Public Works Facility, on John Street, and at the Tannery Park, on Washington Street.

With those sites, plus Sagamore Farm, Camden is estimated to offset 30 percent of the town’s current electrical use with the production of approximately 800,000 kwh per year, said Caler-Bell.

“The Town can potentially finance the purchase and installation of the equipment without a power purchase agreement,” she said, in her memo. “However, the more separate individual systems that are installed the less the economics of converting to solar energy work.

“Offsetting the remaining 70 percent of the town’s electrical use will require an off-site location. Because the town does not have access to a 6-acre site that can facilitate solar development, the most cost-effective option will likely be entering a power purchase agreement whereby the solar developer provides the real estate.”

If that is the path the town decides to pursue, there are a host of additional considerations, said Caler-Bell.

And there are other options, as well.

Should Camden buy into Maine Power Options, a consortium of governmental entities, schools and nonprofits that is overseen by the Maine Municipal Bond Bank?

According to Caler-Bell-Bell’s memo, the MPO is seeking, “competent developers with currently leased land and interconnection agreements and the capability to develop projects up to the five-Megawatt level.”

She added: “From a financial perspective this project will function similarly to Camden’s current agreement through MPO where the town purchases electricity at a fixed rate or a rate that’s tied to credit value with no escalator on the price over the contract term, which can extend for as long as 20 years.”

Or, should Camden invest in a power purchase agreement (PPA) with a privately-owned company, and eventually own the equipment?

She likened the latter scenario to the existing arrangement that Camden has with ReVision Energy and the Sagamore Farm installation.

“From a financial perspective, if the Town were to enter a PPA similar to our existing one, after six years and then an additional seven years of paying the debt service on buying out the investors of our PPA, the Town will begin receiving free power,” she said. “This has a current value of $272,000 per year (net present value). If the expected lifespan of solar panels is 25 years, the Town can expect a savings of approximately $3,264,000 over a 12-year period.”

Or should Camden enter a PPA with a privately-owned company and not attempt to own any equipment?

And then there is the Maine Green Power Program, operated by the Maine Public Utilities Commission.

“If the town enrolls in Maine Green Power, the program purchases certificates from renewable energy facilities in Maine on the town’s behalf,” said Caler-Bell. “The PUC provides oversight to ensure that only eligible Maine renewable energy resources are used to generate energy for Maine Green Power.”

The power from the latter is produced via wind, solar and biomass.

“While the town is not directly partnering with a developer to develop, or investing in the development of renewable energy generation facilities, the town will be contributing to creating a demand for electricity from renewable energy facilities in order to replace and reduce the need for electricity generated from non-renewable sources like fossil fuels,” she said.

But, she finished: “The Town will have no ability to influence where the renewable energy projects will be developed.”

Maine Green Power sources energy from hydro, wind and solar from operations around the state.

Caler-Bell is asking the Select Board for direction so that municipal staff can move forward.

She is asking the board to:

“Determine which of the five factors above carry the most weight for the town?

“Is it directly contributing to the development of renewable energy? Is it moving forward with a projects/program that can quickly be implemented and easily administered? Or is it purely the financial implications?

“Decide if the Board wants to look more closely into offsetting 30 percent of our current electricity use by installing solar on the 5 town-owned sites identified above?”