UNITY — The Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association effectively flipped the on-switch Monday for its new solar array at the Common Ground Education Center on Crosby Brook Road, where more than 300 panels are spread out over five barn roofs.

Jason Tessier, MOFGA’s buildings and grounds director, said the 102-kilowatt array – along with the association’s other forms of renewable energy – will provide all of its electricity and nearly offset its fossil fuel consumption. He said this will translate into nearly $20,000 a year in savings from fuel costs.

Four livestock barns are outfitted with solar panels that generate electricity for the Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association in Unity on Monday. The association also uses heat pumps and wind turbines for alternative means of producing power. Staff photo by David Leaming

“This makes us energy-independent,” he said.

The array is owned by ReVision Energy, and MOFGA has entered a power purchasing agreement to buy power from ReVision at a fixed cost. Though the agreement is for 30 years, the organization will have the ability to purchase the array outright from ReVision after seven years, which Tessier said it intends to do.

MOFGA’s solar array isn’t quite as large as most commercial projects, which typically involve thousands of panels, but it dwarfs most residential efforts. John Luft, branch manager for ReVision’s Liberty location, said an average residential installation is about 6 kilowatts, meaning this installation is the equivalent of 17 residences.

Ren Floyd of ReVision Energy installs a heat pump at the Common Ground Education Center at the Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association in Unity on Monday. Staff photo by David Leaming

Tessier said work on the installations began in December and wrapped up about a month ago. Power technically began being produced in early March but was only tracked beginning Monday, prompting the announcement that the education center was now powered by solar.

MOFGA is the site for the annual Common Ground Country Fair, which is held in September and attracts about 60,000 people over three days. Both Tessier and Luft said this will be an educational opportunity for people to see and learn about solar power and technology.

Chris Trembly of ReVision Energy speaks beside the inverters that convert direct current to alternating current electricity from the solar power system at the Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association in Unity on Monday. Staff photo by David Leaming

“(People) will be able to see different ways energy can happen,” Luft said.

Tessier said education is part of MOFGA’s mission. The organization sits on 300 acres of mixed farmland and forest, and the Common Ground Education Center provides year-round education services.

The organization already had a number of small-scale sources of renewable energy, ranging from heat pumps and a smaller solar photovoltaic array elsewhere on the campus. But this larger array achieves the goal of self-sufficiency. When the time comes, MOFGA will do a fundraising campaign to purchase the array, Tessier said.

Luft said MOFGA had been “dabbling in solar for years,” and ReVision has partnered with it in the past. He said the benefits to having the solar panels are great, noting there is a 25-year warranty on the array and panels usually have a 40-year lifespan.

With no moving parts, the panels just sit there and make electricity. “It’s set it and forget it,” he said.

Colin Ellis can be contacted at 861-9253 or at:

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