As climate change threatens Maine’s economy and way of life in countless ways, it is vital that we embrace and encourage new forms of energy production. Energy independence and stronger local economies can be achieved here in Maine with the encouragement and security of more homegrown renewable energy.

Solar power can be generated in every Maine town, urban or rural; the fuel is free, does not pollute our environment and creates jobs by putting folks to work installing solar panels. Above all, it fixes costs for all ratepayers, specifically in a volatile, fossil-fuel driven energy market.

The technology for rooftop solar panels is mature and reliable, resulting in systems that are expected to work for 40 to 50 years even in New England’s tough climate. Maine industries such as fishing, tourism, and farming rely on a clean, healthy environment, and close to 75 percent of Mainers support renewable energy.

Distributed rooftop solar power is increasingly seen as a way to limit high costs of the transmission and distribution of electricity, which are a driving force behind rising electric rates for Mainers. A recent solar study conducted by the Maine Public Utilities Commission concludes that the value of solar electricity is enormous — twice what current solar customers are credited by the utility. Solar electricity reduces the need to develop and install new fossil fuel power plants and is a cost-competitive solution to any further infrastructure development.

Best of all, solar is most effective during the times when the grid is most stressed, on hot summer days when air conditioners hum across Maine. Net metering allows homeowners and businesses to store excess power on the grid and build up their “credits” during our long, sunny summer days. These banked credits then are used to offset future power usage any time the sun is not shinning.

Additionally, a new community-based option is also available. For many folks, the optimal orientation, sun exposure and roof pitch is not achievable on their limited roof space or specific site. In these instances, with the adoption of community solar farms, neighbors can come together and build their own shared solar array. A community solar farm, or solar garden, is a cooperatively owned solar array that produces clean solar power and feeds it into the grid as a dedicated electric service.

Up to nine individuals can join a community solar farm and own a portion of the electricity that is produced. The electricity then is credited directly to the customers’ bills through net metering. Community solar farms have been built since the early 2000s; however, in the last few years as the cost of solar power has become increasingly competitive with traditional energy, the development of community solar farms has taken off.

Community solar farms can be found in Colorado, Massachusetts, Vermont, Florida, California and Utah, as well as many countries around the globe. Maine’s first community solar farm was built by, and is owned and managed by ReVision Energy. Operational since autumn of 2014, the project was built on an old chicken barn in Paris.

Anyone can join a community solar farm, the concept of which is to empower individuals, neighborhoods and communities to come together as a collective group. The community solar farm lease is designed for homes that are not well-situated for solar panels or for customers who, for any reason, would prefer a system that is not on their own roof. Anyone whose meter is in Central Maine Power territory can join community solar farm. The only requirement for membership is that the homeowner be a CMP customer.

One of the great advantages of a shared solar array is that the investment is portable. Renters or homeowners who are considering moving within the region can still invest in solar and take that investment with them when they move, so long as they stay within CMP’s utility territory. And, if they move outside of CMP’s territory, they can sell their shares, which are entirely transferable.

A community solar farm is a true shared-ownership project. The system, owned by a mutual-benefit nonprofit corporation, is set up by and for its members, who own the solar asset in proportion to their investment. The association also governs the maintenance and operation of the system in perpetuity. As tools and resources such as these and other new energy opportunities make their way into Maine communities, it increasingly is time for neighbors to gather together to build their own community solar farm in the Kennebec Valley. People who are interested in learning more about a community solar farm should contact Linda Woods at [email protected] or 690-4208.

Rob Ellis is a homeowner in Waterville and a member of Sustain Mid Maine Coalition’s Public Policy Team. He also is a solar design specialist at ReVision Energy with branches in both Liberty and Portland.


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