(This solar array, which is situated on 1/2 an acre at Crystal Spring Farm, produces roughly 100,000 kWh of energy per year. HANNAH LACLAIRE / THE TIMES RECORD)

BRUNSWICK — Everyone enjoys a bright, sunny day, but for the folks at Crystal Spring Farm and their solar array, a little bit of sunshine is that much sweeter.

The 78.6-kilowatt photovoltaic solar energy installation has been online at the Brunswick farm for almost two years, producing, on average, 100,000 kilowatt-hours of clean energy every year, according to Steve Weems, one of the project’s leaders.

Steve Weems, president of the nonprofit formed to operate the solar farm, thanks shareholders for their commitment to clean energy and local agriculture. HANNAH LACLAIRE / THE TIMES RECORD

Along with other community members, Crystal Spring Farm and the Brunswick Topsham Land Trust, which owns the land the farm is on, partnered with ReVision Energy to establish a net metering agreement in which each participant gets a kWh credit on their electric bill each month. Crystal Spring Farm owns 44 percent of the share, and the other eight participants split the remainder.

Weems; farm owner Seth Kroeck; Angela Twitchell, executive director of the BTLT; and some of the participating families and local politicians gathered at the solar array Wednesday evening for a small celebration marking two years of solar power in the community.

The project supports not only clean energy, Weems said, but also local, community-based agriculture.

When the conversation concerning a solar array first began, Kroeck said there was initial worry from the community that the array, which covers a half acre of pasture, would be too “ugly.”

However, he argued that people should shift their perceptions of beauty. Gesturing to the silo behind him, he said that while the silo was perhaps not a particularly attractive building, it is what people think of when they think of a farm. This, too, should be the case with the array, he said, adding that “it’s part of the iconography of a modern farm.”

The array has helped the farm offset 100 percent of its energy use, and Kroeck believes the project should be expanded to other areas. “There’s nothing else like it,” he said.

“This is a model that could be used elsewhere to support the twin goals of clean energy and local agriculture,” Weems echoed.

But the road to get there has not always been smooth, he said, and there are still some roadblocks to come. For example, the federal solar tax credit, which currently allows solar-users to deduct 30 percent of the cost of installing a solar energy system from their federal taxes, is set to decrease to just 10 percent for commercial users by 2022. Residential users will no longer be able to claim the tax credit.

District 24 Sen. Brownie Carson applauds the efforts of the solar farm, noting that policy changes around renewable energy may be coming. HANNAH LACLAIRE / THE TIMES RECORD

The state executive office has not been on board either, Weems noted, with a nod to the legislature’s failure to override Gov. Paul LePage’s solar veto in April. The bill would have overturned parts of the Maine Public Utilities Commission’s rule that charges solar panel owners for the energy they produce and use at home, and would have expanded access to solar for Mainers of all economic means, according to the Conservation Law Foundation.

LePage wrote in his veto letter that “Net energy billing subsidizes the cost of solar panels at the expense of the elderly and poor who can least afford it,” adding, “We need to move away from this unsustainable practice.” The veto was upheld by just three votes in the Maine House of Representatives.

However, with LePage terming out of office, Weems and others are optimistic that things will change.

“We have had a giant, virtually immovable boulder sitting in the way” of good policy, District 24 Sen. Brownie Carson said, and added that the “new governor will have to understand the importance and vitality” that solar power offers.

As Weems said, “Nobody owns the sun.”

[email protected]

Comments are not available on this story.

filed under: