Cape Elizabeth is moving forward with a municipal solar energy project, similar to a project in Skowhegan (above). As residents continue to have questions, the Energy Committee provided an informational session on Jan. 25. ReVision Energy courtesy photo

CAPE ELIZABETH — After an increase in residential questions about solar projects, the Cape Elizabeth Energy Committee explained what people should consider when looking into community solar opportunities.

The event was hosted by the Thomas Memorial Library as part of its Community Conversations series on Jan. 25 in a virtual session.

In November of 2020, the town council approved a lease option and energy credit agreements with Encore Renewable Energy in Burlington, Vermont. A seven-acre solar farm is set for the capped landfill.

John Voltz, energy committee member, explained residential solar options in Maine, current solar energy landscape in Maine and an overview of solar energy economics.

“If you want residential solar, there’s currently three options in Maine,” he said. “There’s community solar, where there’s an energy provider that provides solar energy to you and it shows up on your bill as a net energy credit. You buy it from the community solar provider and that offsets the electricity that you use.”

Another version of community solar is called fractional ownership, Voltz said. In this instance, a resident owns a portion of a solar project and that is how the individual receives the solar energy benefits.

The last way to receive solar energy is to install panels onto one’s rooftop or property, he said.

Maine’s energy policies have changed to include a more aggressive renewable portfolio standard for electricity generation, Voltz said.

Net Energy Billing was approved in 2019, which allows allow customers to offset their electricity bills using the output from small renewable generators.

In the past 10 years, the cost of solar energy has decreased by 89 percent, he said.

Generally, solar built in a large scale is cheaper than what someone installs onto their roof, Voltz said.

“Community solar, the way it works is you don’t put solar on your rooftop,” he said. “There’s a project developer. They sign up subscribers. You build the project, then the project delivers electricity to the grid. The project developer builds subscribers for the project and then he passes on the energy credits to the utility that shows up on your bill as a reduction.”

Regardless of if someone is a renter or owner of their home, they can subscribe to community solar, Voltz said. The subscriber does not need to worry about installation or maintenance.

For the question of whether community solar is “really” green, the answer is mixed, he said.

“The answer is yes and no,” Voltz said. “Nearly every community solar developer, from what I’ve seen, they’re keeping the renewable energy credit, which is part of what you create when you create solar power. You create electricity and also there’s a commodity called renewable energy credit, which is energy produced from a green, renewable source.

“You’re not buying green power when you get community solar but you’re catalyzing the solar industry and the community solar industry by playing a role as a subscriber to allow the creation of those renewable energy credits. Without that kind of catalyst, you’d see a slower uptake in solar overall.”

Voltz compared community solar options with fractional ownership and placing solar panels on a home owner’s rooftop.

The energy committee members at the meeting said that they would compile a frequently asked questions list and have the archived session available for the public.

Sam Milton, energy committee member said that the committee felt it made sense to put the information out for the public to make up its mind. There are multiple providers and residents can explore options.

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