April 23, 2013

Firm helping Maine towns catch some rays

By Leslie Bridgers lbridgers@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

A Windham fire station is the latest of several municipal buildings in southern Maine that soon could be powered by solar panels through a collaboration with a renewable energy company.

click image to enlarge

Fortunat C. Mueller, co-founder of ReVision Energy, stands with solar panels on the roof of the South Portland Department of Planning and Development on Ocean Street, Monday, April 22, 2013.

Gabe Souza / Staff Photographer

ReVision Energy, which is based in Maine and New Hampshire, has been working with several towns to install solar panels on public buildings at no upfront cost.

On Tuesday, the Windham Town Council will hear a proposal by the company to install solar panels on the East Windham Fire Station on Falmouth Road -- a project expected to generate enough electricity to power both that building and the North Windham Fire Station on Route 302.

Fortunat Mueller, co-owner of ReVision Energy, said solar power is a natural match with municipalities because they tend to stay in the same buildings for long periods of time and, thus, can realize savings.

But, unlike private companies that can recoup about half of the cost of installing solar panels through tax credits, municipalities don't get any tax incentives because they don't pay taxes, Mueller said.

"Towns effectively pay double" what private companies pay for the projects, he said, and because of that, they're resistant to them.

That's where ReVision comes in.

Since last year, the company has been forming agreements with municipal governments and not-for-profit groups in which ReVision installs, owns and operates solar projects on their buildings and sells the power to them.

Because ReVision is a private company, it gets reimbursed through tax credits. When the credits from the project stop coming in, the company will sell the system to the building's owner for the remainder of the cost.

"We hope to be made whole at the end of the day," Mueller said.

For the company, the goal of the project isn't to make money but to further its mission to expand the use of solar energy, Mueller said. "If we can help (towns) save money and, at the same time, put less carbon dioxide in the air, then that's a win for us."

The project proposed in Windham would cost the company $117,000 to install and would generate 46,654 kilowatt-hours of power per year.

ReVision would sell power to the town for 10.5 cents per kilowatt hour, a 1-cent discount from the rate Windham pays to Central Maine Power Co., according to the company's proposal.

After six years, the town would have the option to purchase the system for $35,000 and, within 30 years, would save about $100,000 in electricity costs, the proposal says.

Town Manager Tony Plante said that if the council is interested in pursuing the project, it could formally vote on an agreement with ReVision as soon as next month and the system could be installed this summer.

ReVision is working on similar proposals with Yarmouth and Freeport, where officials are considering solar panels for their public works garages, Mueller said.

The town of Eliot has approved an agreement with ReVision, which plans to install the panels on its public works garage next month.

South Portland recently had the system installed on its planning office. "Everything's going well so far," said Tex Haeuser, the city's planning and development director.

Haeuser hopes Maine starts to make better use of solar power, which has created hundreds of jobs in other states, he said.

"It's a good deal all the way around," said Haeuser, who plans to testify Wednesday in favor of L.D. 1252, An Act to Improve Maine's Economy and Energy Security with Solar and Wind Energy.

ReVision has also done projects, under the same type of agreement, at Thomas College in Waterville, Unity College in Unity and Riding To The Top Therapeutic Riding Center in Windham, among others.

ReVision hopes to expand the use of its financing model, and is trying to find other companies that have an interest in investing in renewable energy and would be willing to take on the upfront costs for municipalities and nonprofits.

 

Staff Writer Leslie Bridgers can be contacted at: 791-6364 or at:

lbridgers@pressherald.com

 

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