Residents and business owners in Unity are being invited to invest in solar power projects in the hope that utility bills can be reduced and the town can become more attractive to business.

Energy consultant Steve Kahl said he thinks the time is right for investment in solar energy projects, since the 30 percent federal solar tax credit expires in 2016 and low interest rates make now a good time to buy bonds for capital projects.

Widespread availability of sources of solar energy could help make the rural town of 1,800 more competitive and keep business in place, Kahl said.

Several models could be adopted around the community, he said.

One model would be a community solar farm, where an array of solar panels would be built and people could buy shares of the farm, as they would of a community-supported agriculture program. The program would be ideal for homes that aren’t good candidates for installing their own solar panels, such as those without a good orientation to the south.

“If you make that 10 percent investment, you could get a 10 percent credit on your bill for the amount of electricity that has been generated by solar,” Kahl said.

A second model would be through Unity nonprofit agencies, such as the Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association and Maine Farmland Trust, which cooperate on a solar project. The groups could solicit an investor or investors who would build the solar array and sell the electricity at a discount rate to the nonprofits, Kahl said. The investor would have a contracted buyer for the electricity and get the 30 percent tax credit, while the nonprofits would get a discount on electricity.

Kahl, a former sustainability director at Unity College, suggested that businesses or town government could cooperate on a similar project.

There are other community solar programs across the state that Kahl cited as examples, including a solar-sharing program in Freeport and a solar array that helps provide power to Thomas College in Waterville.

Unity Barnraisers has hosted public information sessions on investing in solar power, and another public session is scheduled for Feb. 24 at the Unity Community Center.

Kahl said he typically spends more time answering questions than explaining the programs.

“There’s definitely an education component to this,” he said.

Kahl said the session probably will be at 6 p.m., but he still needs to finalize the time. Anyone with questions can email him at [email protected]

Kaitlin Schroeder — 861-9252

[email protected]

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