Bath-area schools will soon operate using solar power, which is expected to save the district about $40,000 on its energy bill annually, but the schools likely won’t be able to use solar power until late 2023.

The Regional School Unit 1 board signed a 20-year contract with ReVison Energy Monday to purchase power generated by a solar farm the company will build near Augusta.

RSU 1 serves Bath, Arrowsic, Woolwich and Phippsburg.

RSU 1 Superintendent Patrick Manuel said the solar power agreement is estimated to save the school district between $850,000 to $900,000 over the contract’s 20-year lifespan. Those savings come from energy billing credits RSU 1 will receive to offset a portion of its Central Maine Power bill for using solar power.

RSU 1 attorney Aga Dixon estimated the district will receive a roughly 17% discount, totaling about $40,000, annually on its CMP bill through this agreement. The district now spends about $280,000 on its CMP bill each year, said Dixon.

Manuel said the district is “excited to receive financial benefits associated with energy produced by a locally owned solar array,” but doesn’t have a plan for using the savings.

Board member William Perkins said he was in favor of the solar agreement Monday because, in addition to saving the district money, it helps “move toward an environmentally friendly world.”

“It’s a global issue and it’s real,” Perkins said of climate change on Monday. “We’ll save some fossil fuels and carbon emissions as a result of solar energy and we’re joining the club.”

The main drawback of the agreement, Dixon said, is “Until the solar farm is up and running, you’re not seeing the discount on your CMP bill.”

According to ReVision Energy Representative Andrew Kahrl, when entities sign contracts with the company, they get in line to receive power from whatever solar farm the company builds next. The solar farm RSU 1 is expected to receive power from will be built near Augusta and has an expected completion date of December 2022, but won’t be ready to send power to customers until December 2023, said Kahrl.

Board member Stephen August said he sees the solar power agreement as “an educational tool for our students as well as an opportunity to drive some savings.”

August said he’d be interested in adding solar panels on a school site in the future for students “to understand the engineering and see the value of renewable resources in our electrical supply system.”

By signing on to use renewable energy, RSU 1 is also working toward Gov. Janet Mills’ goal of Maine becoming carbon neutral by 2045, which she pledged while addressing the United Nations General Assembly in 2019.

Mills signed three bills two months later aimed at ushering in renewable energy, the Portland Press Herald reported. The new laws boosted solar incentives and reduce Maine greenhouse gas emissions by 45% by 2030 and 80% by 2050. Lawmakers also passed legislation to increase Maine’s renewable portfolio standard from 40% then to 80% by 2030 and 100% by 2050.

In late 2020, the governor announced her plan to submit legislation aimed at, among other things, doubling the number of clean energy jobs to 30,000 by 2030, further pushing the need to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and generate renewable energy.

The U.S. Energy Information Administration estimated just under 20% of the energy the country generated in 2020 was generated by renewable energy sources like solar, wind or hydropower. Of that, a little over 2% was solar power.

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