Flipping the switch: Community efforts illuminate solar power in Hope
HOPE — With the flip of a switch, on the bright, cold morning of January 9, 2020, the town of Hope joined the growing list of Maine municipalities using solar energy to power town facilities.
A total of 120 panels capable of an annual output of 54,600 kwh will power Hope’s town office, salt shed and two fire stations. It will also provide a substantial portion of the power used by the town’s new high-efficiency heat pumps which will also cool the buildings, as needed. It is calculated that the solar array and heat pumps will save the town hundreds of thousands of dollars over the life span of the system. The array will provide clean power for approximately 30 years and will offset approximately 54,500 pounds of carbon dioxide (CO2) every year. The Maine Public Utilities Commission notes that CO2 is a greenhouse gas that is “a major contributor to global warming.”
Hope’s solar array is located in a field adjacent to True Park.
The installation of the Town’s solar array required the efforts of many Hope residents to come to fruition. Back in 2018, Elsie and Cameron Pinchbeck, children of Lindsay and Chris Pinchbeck, began gathering signatures to present to Hope’s Board of Selectmen in support of a municipal solar project. In November of that year the Board of Selectmen appointed the Hope Solar Committee to investigate the solar option. Chris Pinchbeck chaired the committee which also included Bill Jones, Ron Smith, David Hall, Rick Bresnahan and Thom Ingraham. Architect Tim Lock, a Hope resident, served as a consultant.
The Committee’s work over the coming months involved contacting towns already having solar arrays – to learn of their experiences with their projects. The committee analyzed the financial benefits of “going solar” and Requests for Proposals were developed seeking bids from solar contractors. Throughout the process the support of Hope residents proved to be absolutely essential - through attendance at Select Board meetings and especially, turning out in record numbers at the March 2019 Special Town Meeting where a 165-16 vote helped move the project forward by approving an energy audit and authorizing the selectmen to proceed. Resident Ellie Goldberg was instrumental in communicating information to town residents as things progressed.
Another very important step towards Hope’s solar project came when members of the True family, heirs to William True who gifted the land for True Park to benefit the citizens of Hope, submitted a letter to the Selectmen in support of siting the array in its eventual location. This letter was pivotal in the town’s decision to move forward. The letter, plus the energy audit, a subsequent meeting with ReVision Energy engineers, and a final review of finances following Hope Solar’s generous proposed Power Purchase Agreement (PPA) led to the Selectmen approving the project and forwarding the proposal to the Hope’s Planning Board.
The Board held a number of meetings, a site visit, and a hearing before approving the solar array contingent on Maine’s Department of Environmental Protection approval. That final step was completed when the DEP signed off on the project in late October 2019. The terms of the PPA stipulate that Hope Solar will provide electricity to the town at a reduced rate for five years and will then sell the array to the Town for 44% of the system’s original cost. Hope Solar, LLC owned by Hope resident Rick Bresnahan, also provided the heat pumps to the town through a nominal capital equipment lease. Much of the work in the last phase of moving Hope solar array forward depended upon the unwavering efforts of Town Administrator Samantha Mank, engineers Gartley and Dorsky, ReVision Energy’s staff, and Hope Solar’s Rick Bresnahan.
The solar array was installed by ReVision Energy in conjunction with a PPA between the Town of Hope and Hope Solar, LLC. Fittingly, Elsie and Cameron had the honor of flipping the switch connecting the array to the grid on January 9.
So it seems evident in this extended history, the path from collecting signatures in 2018 through January 2020’s connection of the array to the grid depended upon many good people’s ideas, work, generosity and persistence. Nothing was guaranteed and yet if you drive out of the center of town on Rt. 105 towards Camden and look off to your left, there it is: Hope’s solar array in place now, and for the next 30 years, positively impacting our town and our environment.