Getting a tank of sunshine … at Oxford Hills Comprehensive High School

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STEADY AS SHE GOES — Shawn Kane, left, and Tony Giambro, both members of the Center for Ecology-Based Economy's Board of Directors, help install a new 6,300-watt solar tracker at Oxford Hills Comprehensive High School, which will power charge three electric vehicle chargers.

PARIS — The new solar tracker that is being installed at Oxford Hills Comprehensive High School is part of a larger project to expand electric vehicle infrastructure in the area and market western Maine as a “green destination.”

Norway’s Center for Ecology-Based Economy is spearheading the project after receiving a $60,000 anonymous donation, according to CEBE Executive Director Scott Vlaun. The goal is to improve electric vehicle infrastructure across the entire region from Bethel to Fryeburg to Poland and everywhere in between.

The first step in that larger project is the installation of a solar tracker to power three electric vehicle chargers at the high school on Route 26 in Paris, which began late last week. It is believed this is the first solar tracker in Maine used to power electric vehicle chargers, according to CEBE Advisory Board member Fred Garbo, who is also helping install the tracker.

“It is a dual axis solar tracker so it has tilt and yaw. It works in landscape but it also tilts. It goes almost flat in the summer,” he said. “It is GPS enabled and has a different tracking pattern every single day.”

The solar tracker is from AllEarth Renewables in Williston, Vermont, and is comprised of 20 72-cell solar panels with the inverter to convert the power on the mast of the structure.

“The tracker will obviously charge the cars if they’re there during the day. And the excess power if no one is there will go to the school in the form of that energy bank and that bank gets used as the days get shorter, which is called net metering,” Garbo said.

INNOVATIVE — From left, Tony Giambro, Shawn Kane and Fred Garbo, all members of Center for Ecology-Based Economy’s boards, stand in front of the frame for the new solar tracker the organization is installing at the high school to help improve electric vehicle infrastructure in the area.

The electric vehicle chargers include one Telsa and two universal chargers from ClipperCreek. Part of the deal made with the SAD 17 Board of Directors is that the chargers will be open to the public and CEBE will maintain them, according to Vlaun.

“It is not only community charging, it is workplace charging in this instance,” CEBE Board of Director member Tony Giambro said. “It is a perk for the teachers. … Hopefully, it will inspire them to go out and get an electric vehicle next time they’re on the market.”

Organizers hope the charging stations and tracker will also inspire students.

“Our goal in doing this at the high school is to expose the students to this technology, both the electric vehicle and solar technology,” Vlaun said, adding they hope to have people working in the alternate energy field to come and chat with the students.

SAD 17 Assistant Superintendent Patrick Hartnett said via email having the solar tracker and electric car chargers at the high school is a great opportunity to work with CEBE and other community partners.

“While there may not be a high concentration of electric cars at this point, it will be of benefit to those in the area and may draw visitors to the Oxford Hills,” he said. “In addition, the tracker will certainly be of interest to students and teachers and could lead to numerous learning opportunities around sustainable energy solutions, environmental studies, and public policy. There have not been many formal discussions at this point, but I could see additional learning opportunities emerging for high school classes, technical programs or for other district schools.”

The reason organizers chose to install a solar tracker over stationary solar panels on the roof is to make a statement with the movement of the tracker, according to Garbo.

“It is an animated way of following the sun,” he said. “This way, because it does move, we think that it will peak interest.”

Garbo added he knows a student who was granted permission from Gould Academy to use the school’s electric vehicle charger next year. Students at OHCHS would be able to do the same if they drove an electric vehicle to school.

The anonymous donation came from a person who is extremely interested in expanding electric vehicle infrastructure in the area, Giambro said.

“This part of Maine is kind of undeserved compared to southern Maine, but it’s changing because if you look at the PlugShare map, Norway-South Paris has more electric vehicle chargers than Lewiston-Auburn,” he said about the website that maps electric vehicle chargers throughout the United States. “I think it speaks wonders for what we’ve been able to accomplish up here so far.”

But Giambro was quick to add that there is room for improvement.

Vlaun agreed.

“Bethel could use some more infrastructure,” he said, noting that it would only enhance the popular tourist town.

Part of the expansion is looking at workplace charging and placing electric vehicle chargers in recreational areas, including busy trail heads, Vlaun said. This way people could enjoy the outdoors and charge their vehicle at the same time. A long-range plan is developing an off the grid charging station that would be battery powered.

“We are really looking at expanding the network and promoting this area as a green destination,” Vlaun said.

This, in turn, helps make Maine greener.

“The more infrastructure we have, the more cars without tailpipes, the cleaner [it is]. Maine stays Vacationland,” said Garbo, who owns two electric vehicles himself, a solar powered golf cart and a solar tracker. “Every day I leave I have a tank full of sunshine.”

Also contributing to the project are 350 Maine with a monetary donation, Pleasant Hill Property Services with excavation work, Paris Autobarn with in-kind services, Garbo-Kane Integrated Solar Builders for installation of the tracker and master electrician Dennis Yates for consulting services.

Up next is the third annual Electric Vehicle Expo put on by CEBE. It will be hosted at the high school’s solar tracker and charging station on Saturday, Sept. 16, where a ribbon-cutting ceremony will take place.

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