Gaps in two rows of panels show yet more panels at a solar farm that was installed late last year next to the local town office. Credit: Bill Trotter

By the time the 2019-20 academic year gets under way, more than 1,300 solar panels are expected to be installed on the roof of Mount Desert Island High School.

The MDI Regional School System has a power purchase agreement with Sundog Solar of Searsport to install the panels on the roof sometime this summer. As part of the agreement, the school district will purchase power generated by the panels from the solar company for roughly six years and then will have the option to purchase the array.

“All of our electric needs at the high school will be solar paneled,” Marc Gousse, the island’s school superintendent, said Thursday.

The 545-student school’s power usage with electric utility Emera amounts to a little more than 500,000 kilowatt hours per year and an annual power bill of more than $100,000, Gousse added. That includes a cost of roughly 17 cents per kilowatt hour.

According to Danny Piper of Sundog Solar, under the solar agreement the high school will pay just under 9 cents per kilowatt hour for six years, after which the rate will be adjusted. The school system will have an option after roughly six years to purchase the panels from Sundog.

The panels will be connected to the regional distribution grid, so they will feed power into the grid at times when they produce more power than the high school is using, Piper said. Emera will credit the school for the excess power that goes into the grid.

“The panels will cover the net demand of the [school’s] load,” Piper said. “There will be a lot of savings.”

He added that each panel measures a little bigger than 3 feet by 5 feet, and the high school roof is big enough to accommodate probably twice as many panels. The panels to be installed this summer, he said, will go on areas of the roof that have longer expected life spans than others, to make re-roofing easier when the time comes.

“They could put more power up there, definitely,” Piper said.

According to Gousse, the school system received some help on the project from local group A Climate to Thrive, which coordinates a bulk-purchasing solar program for power consumers on MDI and has a goal of making the island energy independent by 2030.

“It was a collaborative effort,” he said.

The superintendent said the solar project at the high school is similar to another that Tremont Consolidated School, which is part of the island’s school system, reached with Sundog in conjunction with a solar array installed late last year next to the Tremont town office.

That array helps provide power to both the town office and the local school, Gousse said. He said he hopes to work out similar deals for the island’s other schools if solar farms are developed near elementary schools in Southwest Harbor, Northeast Harbor and downtown Bar Harbor.

“It’s a no-brainer,” Gousse said.

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Bill Trotter

A news reporter in coastal Maine for more than 20 years, Bill Trotter writes about how the Atlantic Ocean and the state's iconic coastline help to shape the lives of coastal Maine residents and visitors....