TOPSHAM — Topsham solar enthusiasts got a thumbs up from selectmen to seek prices on purchasing solar energy.

Three of the five members of the Board of Selectmen attended the Thursday meeting where they unanimously approved the request. It authorizes Topsham Solar Advocates to scope out possibilities for purchasing solar power for town properties on behalf of the town, according to Vice Chairman Bill Thompson.

Thompson said the group will send requests for proposals to several providers. The board is not obligated to accept any proposal it may receive. 

Topsham Solar Advocates, a group of 10 Topsham residents and business owners, has presented options to selectmen for purchasing solar power through what Thompson likened to a rent-to-own program, wherein a company builds the solar array and gets a tax credit; the town buys power from that provider and eventually takes over ownership of the array.

However, town officials worry the town would have to make a large investment 10 to 20 years down the road when some solar equipment needs replacement, Thompson said.

“So we were more agreeable to buying solar power from providers,” as the town does now from standard utilities, Thompson said.

Between July 2018 and June 2019, the town paid $180,000-$190,000 for electricity, according to Town Manager Rich Roedner. It buys its power from Constellation NewEnergy Inc., through Maine Power Options, which gets competitive pricing for bulk power for municipalities and nonprofit organizations.  

Solar Advocates say a power-purchase agreement would allow Topsham to buy power from a solar provider at a set rate per kilowatt-hour. That could save the town around $37,000 according to estimates. 

The group estimated the town could save $97,000 a year, after a hypothetical 7-year buyout.  

Selectmen’s vote Thursday allows them to get firm numbers.

“They are confident we can get some favorable costs for power,” Thompson said.

He estimated it could be eight to 12 weeks before the Solar Advocates come back to selectmen to present their findings.

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