HEBRON — Hebron Academy has installed Maine’s largest rooftop solar array and school officials say they are not stopping there.
The goal is to make the campus “net zero.”
A major step was made toward that goal last week when the installation of 970 solar electric panels on top of the Athletic Center was dedicated by Academy officials and ReVision Energy.
“Accomplishing this long-term sustainability goal will require a combination of efficiency measures like tightening building envelopes, upgrading to LED lighting and switching to hyper-efficient heat pump technology for heating and cooling wherever possible on campus to reduce annual energy demand, as well as investments in additional solar arrays and eventually battery storage systems,” said Paul Coupe, co-founder of ReVision Energy when asked what it would take to get to “net zero.”
The Portland-based company, with offices in New Hampshire and Massachusetts, installed the solar electric panels on the roof of the Athletic Center, a state-of-the-art athletic facility built in 2008 at a cost of $11 million with a floor space of 54,000 square feet.
The building includes basketball, tennis and squash courts, room for indoor practices for field sports during inclement weather, a fully-equipped fitness center, elevated track, a multi-purpose room for exercise and dance, a rock-climbing wall, locker rooms, and meeting rooms.
And now solar electric panels on its roof.
Coupe told the Advertiser Democrat that the panels will produce more than 300,000 kilowatt hours of emission-free electricity annually while eliminating more than 300,000 pounds of carbon pollution from regional fossil fuel power plants every year.
Over the 40-year expected useful lifespan of the solar panels, Hebron’s array will prevent more than 10 million pounds of carbon pollution from entering the atmosphere, said Coupe.
The long-term goal, he said, could also involve the creation of a Hebron Academy micro-grid to improve energy independence and resilience.
“To date we have designed additional rooftop solar arrays for Robinson Arena (a 1993 building that is “home ice” for Hebron squads) and the school’s maintenance facility, as well as a potential large ground-mounted array, but none of these projects are active at present,” said Coupe, who is optimistic that the school will decide to move forward with one or more of the designed arrays in 2017.
Coupe told Hebron Academy officials and others gathered for an informal dedication of the Athletic Center roof project last week that school officials’ commitment to clean, renewable solar energy through that project and other possible future projects to become “net zero” are both “bold” and “trailblazing.”
“This trailblazing project is a tribute to Hebron’s exceptional leadership team and Board of Directors, including but not limited to Paul Goodof, John King, Jim Bisesti and Dan Marchetti,” Coupe said at the dedication. “Although Maine currently has the highest per capita carbon emissions in New England, Hebron Academy’s solar project and its leadership on the clean energy transition are powerful examples of renewable energy’s tremendous potential to create jobs, reduce energy costs and protect our pristine natural environment for present and future generations.”
School officials declined to discuss the specific cost of the project, but Lissa Gumprecht, marketing and communications manager at the Academy, issued a statement to the Advertiser Democrat on behalf of the academy saying, “The construction of the solar array was made possible through a Power Purchase Agreement with ReVision Energy. This allows the Academy, a nonprofit organization, to gain the same benefits of clean solar energy that many traditional businesses enjoy. The solar array is a long-term investment in sustainability.”
Gumprecht said Hebron Academy is committed to being green – saving energy, using clean energy, recycling – wherever possible.
“Operating a net zero campus is a lofty goal and one that we will continue to work toward,” she said.
The economics of solar are very sound, according to officials at ReVision Energy, which cites as an example that a solar hot water system can save a home as much as 300 gallons of oil per year.
Solar is plentiful here in Maine, according to company officials who say they are in the business of solar because out of all the other energy options (including wind, biomass, ocean power, etc.) and, conventional options (natural gas, oil, coal, nuclear) they believe solar if a viable solution to the country’s energy insecurity.
While some may question how Maine has enough sunshine to power these projects, Coupe said Maine gets 30 percent more sunshine per year than Germany, the world leader in solar energy adoption.
While the Oxford Hills may seem dreary and depressing during its winter cloudy days, the area has actually a leader in solar projects here in Maine.
In fact the Oxford Hills region can boast some solar projects of the first in the state. In addition to the recent Hebron Academy’s rooftop solar array, Oxford claims Maine’s first AllSun tracker, which was installed in 2012 by ReVision Energy at the Fairwinds Farm at 346 Skeetfield Road.
The tracker is 20 feet wide and 22 feet tall, and its 20 panels each have a 240-watt capacity. It provides 40 percent to 50 percent more power than a stationary panel mounted on a rooftop.
Owners David and Cathy Knightly said at the time they expect 40 to 50 years of use from the system that cost about $35,000. With state and federal assistance, the Knightlys said they expect to pay for itself in 10 to 12 years.
In 2014, Norway put an electric car charging station downtown. It was the second of its kind in Oxford County, and believed to be the first run by a municipality in the state, according to CEBE Executive Director Scott Vlaun at the time.
Other innovative solar practices are abundant in the area.
In 2013, a green initiative project at Mt. Abram ski resort officials in Greenwood began a green initiative, including the installation of an 803 solar panel project, which gave the resort 75 percent of its power from the sun. Mt. Abram is also home to an electric vehicle charging station, cooking oil recycling practices, a wood pellet boiler to help heat the mountain’s buildings and airless snow guns. Officials hope to expand their solar capacity to cover 100 percent of its electricity usage.
State energy plan
In the state’s 2015 update of Maine’s Comprehensive Energy Plan, Patrick Woodcock, then-director of the Governor’s Energy Office, said Maine continues to be one of the leaders in the country with renewable energy production.
“In 2012, Maine generated 54 percent of its electricity from renewable resources and has had strong growth in the use of wood energy for thermal applications. Much of the recent growth in the electrical sector has been driven from New England’s renewable portfolio standard, the federal production tax credit, and Maine’s wind energy resource,” he wrote. “Maine’s renewable energy credit prices have fallen significantly, and, without policy changes, renewable energy credits will unlikely be a primary reason for pursuing renewable investment in Maine.”
Woodcock said the state should focus renewable energy subsidies on the most cost-effective options and work to develop a long-term policy to provide price certainty for distributed generation resources.
Presently, of the six New England states, there are five different sets of renewable portfolio standards, and one set of renewable energy goals (Vermont).
Among the recommendations regarding renewable energy in the 85-page report is that the state continue its current efforts to increase energy efficiency, and replace higher-emitting energy sources with renewable energy sources and low carbon-emitting natural gas.
It also recommends Maine re-evaluates all its renewable energy programs, and develop a simplified, integrated, inclusive, renewable energy policy, which is aligned toward the state’s greatest challenges – reducing electricity costs for Maine businesses, and lowering total energy costs for Maine households.
Angela Monroe, acting director of the Governor’s Energy Office, told the Advertiser Democrat this week that the administration supports but does not favor the use of any particular renewable energy source.
“The governor and the GEO are supportive of energy resources that lower energy costs to Mainers and do not harm the environment but do not favor any particular resource over another,” she said.
Monroe said her office is gathering additional in-depth data and input for a further, and more detailed, update to the state’s energy plan.
Mt. Abram’s sustainability lauded
GREENWOOD — A Boston-based business climate change association says Mt. Abram has made “bold” moves to make targeted measures against climate change and its effect on the business.
“In the face of a changing climate, Mt. Abram is taking bold measures to survive warmer winters,” Carly Hicks of the Climate Action Business Association in Boston said in a statement released this week.
The organization, whose stated mission is to “to help solve the climate crisis by organizing local business leaders to be more effective advocates for climate change action within our communities, at the business, and at local, state, regional, national and international levels,” chose five New England ski resorts, including Mt. Abram, to highlight as Champions of Snow this winter.
Accessed by five lifts and having a vertical drop of 1,150 feet, the ski area located just off Route 26 in Greenwood boasts 51 ski and snowboard trails.
The program showcases the efforts that small mountains are taking to lessen their environmental impact and adapt to the warmer winters that climate change brings, Hicks said.
Over the last seven years, the Mt. Abram ski area has developed a massive solar array and energy savings programs that are part of a project called “Sustainable Slopes.”
In 2010, Mt. Abram officials told the Sun Media Group that despite strong mountain winds, turbines were not an option so they look toward solar energy as a noninvasive alternative.
In 2013, using a $235,000 U.S. Department of Agriculture Rural Energy for America Program grant, mountain officials developed an 803 solar panel project, which gave the resort 75 percent of its power from the sun.
State law required that Central Maine Power Co. buy energy from the mountain at the same rate they charge. The goal was to produce more energy annually than the mountain uses. At that time the ski resort was using about 450,000 kwh per year.
After an energy audit by Efficiency Maine, Mt. Abram officials said its aim was for a further reduction to 350,000 to 380,000 kwh with upgrades like new snow-making guns.
Last year mountain owners purchased Nivis Airless snow guns through the Greenhouse Gas Reduction Program, which offered a 50-percent matching grant.
The new snow-making equipment has a special injection system that made it possible to work without a compressor unit or a central compressed air system, thus using no electrical energy.
The snow guns reduce air consumption by 50 percent and reduce the amount of carbon and other greenhouse gases produced by 402,804 pounds, according to Mt. Abram officials. The new technology also increases the quality of the man-made snow.
“Going forward, the mountain is working to improve upon their current initiatives, in particular, expanding their solar capacity to cover 100% of their electricity usage,” Hicks said of the ski area the organziation says is leading the charge in onsite renewable energy.