HINCKLEY, Maine — The Good Will-Hinckley school has found a way to save money while aligning with its ideals: purchasing solar power.
Glenn Cummings, president and executive director of Good Will-Hinckley and the Maine Academy of Natural Sciences, helped unveil 110 solar panels on the roof of Prescott Hall on Monday.
Good Will-Hinckley is a high school focused on agriculture, sustainability, forestry, work force skills training and independent living.
“I’ll start by showing something every Mainer gets almost every month,” said Cummings. “This is a Central Maine Power bill. It is a larger-than-it-should-be bill. There are more efficient ways for us to pay for our electric bill.”
Nonprofits and local governments are ineligible for federal and state tax incentives for renewable energy. So, the school partnered with ReVision Energy and its solar power purchase agreement. Under the agreement, ReVision Energy finances, builds, owns and operates the system. ReVision Energy has offices in Liberty, Portland and Exeter, N.H.
The school expects to save $112,000 over the life of the project. The solar panels have a 40-50 year life span. The equipment was installed in October and started producing electricity in January.
“When considered over the lifetime of the equipment as it is installed, the cost of solar-generated electricity is lower than coal, lower than nuclear, lower than natural gas,” said Bill Behrens, co-founder of ReVision Energy. “There’s no maintenance, no cleaning, no checking of pipes or anything of that sort. It’s amazing technology.”
The project cost $125,000. To help offset the initial expense, ReVision Energy arranged financing through Coastal Enterprises Inc. of Wiscasset. CEI is a nonprofit community development corporation and financial institution.
“We think that sustainability for Maine means more power and heat from our own resources at a lower cost and at a less environmental cost,” said Steve Cole, director of sustainable communities for CEI. “What’s happening here is really a cause for celebration.”
The 25.85-kilowatt system has 110 3½-by-5½ -foot solar panels with two power converters behind the kitchen. If the school produces more electricity than it consumes, the electricity can be sold back to CMP.
“And Central Maine Power uses it just as if they had produced it themselves. Exactly the same electricity,” said Behrens.
On Monday, the sun was shining, but there was some cloud cover. The meters were showing that the panels were producing better than 90 percent of their maximum power.
“That’s one of the reasons we decided that Good Will-Hinckley is such a wonderful place [for solar power],” said Behrens. “The solar resources here in central Maine are one of the best in all of New England.”
Cummings said the savings from switching to solar will be passed on to students.
“Every cent that we save on this electric bill will go to scholarships for kids who need help,” said Cummings. “That’s the biggest win for us because our mission is to put as much money into the support of education and welfare of those kids [as possible].”
Behrens said this was the first project designed for a nonprofit by ReVision Energy, and he hopes for more.
“The reality is that the nonprofit sector has long-term views. Those are exactly parallel to what solar energy can provide,” said Behrens. “It was just a matter of figuring out how to do that. We finally figured out how to do that, and we’re happy to say that this facility is the first of, [we hope], many such projects throughout the state of Maine.”