Sustain Mid Maine Coalition, a nonprofit organization focusing on developing the systems and infrastructure for a sustainable economy in central Maine, recently launched its Solarize Mid Maine program, which reduces the cost of solar installations for residents and businesses in the region.

Since 2010, the coalition’s Energy Team has focused its efforts on reducing energy use through weatherization programs and continues today to foster these programs through volunteer efforts, including its latest program of low-cost interior window inserts. For the participants, these efforts have reduced the amount of energy consumed by 20 to 40 percent each year.

According to an Efficiency Maine Trust Presentation at the 2015 Sustain Mid Maine Coalition annual meeting, together the people of Maine can influence the price of electricity two ways: by decreasing the amount of energy we use (reducing the demand for energy, especially in peak periods) and by increasing the amount we generate (increasing the supply). Both will reduce the cost of energy.

As individuals we have the ability to do both. We can reduce energy consumption by improving our homes’ energy efficiency (with as little trouble as using LED light bulbs or more comprehensive approaches, such as air sealing, insulating our homes, and installing super-efficient heat pumps), and we can increase the supply of energy by producing our own energy sources, such as cutting firewood from our own woodlots or installing energy producing devices such as solar panels.

Keeping in mind the initial cost of solar, the Solarize Mid Maine program is designed to reduce the cost of solar installation for our region by issuing a competitive bid process, and, recently, negotiating a bulk buy agreement with Insource Renewables of Pittsfield to install solar energy systems.

Those who sign up prior to June 4 will qualify for bulk pricing. The greater the number of participants, the lower the price of the equipment and installation. Sustain Mid Maine Coalition has already collected the names of 150 residents who are interested in exploring solar power for their home.

The model builds on the earlier efforts of communities across the United States to increase the amount of solar energy installed in their towns or cities. Solarize efforts have been implemented in various states across the country, including Oregon, Washington, Massachusetts, Vermont, New Hampshire and right here in Maine, with the Solarize Freeport program.

Solarize Mid Maine serves the communities of the greater Waterville-Winslow area, as well as the greater Unity and Skowhegan regions (Insource Renewables will collaborate with Unity Barn Raisers and Main Street Skowhegan to serve these additional communities).

As part of the program, all interested residents and businesses will receive a free solar estimate. In addition, Insource Renewables will provide individual consulting on other energy options and will lead community education sessions related to solar, mini-split heat pumps, and other effective energy measures.

To date, a half-dozen residents have signed contracts to install solar on their homes through Solarize Mid Maine. Several more have received pricing and are waiting for Maine’s solar legislation to be resolved before finalizing their contracts.

Currently, if residents install solar panels that export more power to the grid than they draw from the grid in a year, their excess energy is provided free to the power grid. Instead of removing barriers that keep Mainers from installing solar, recent discussions have turned toward an effort to eliminate Maine’s solar industry all together.

This is exactly the type of uncertainty that Sustain Mid Maine and other advocates were hoping could finally be eliminated in Maine. The uncertainty creates questions as to whether this is a good time to buy solar. This is a critical question that is of concern to the Sustain Mid Maine Coalition and all of Maine’s electric consumers. The less power we create, the higher the cost.

Insource Renewables has been very active in the solar policy discussion and brings this expertise to the Solarize Mid Maine program. As legislation solidifies, the considerations will be incorporated into the program and our partners will provide guidance to participants.

We hope that some predictability will be provided by the Legislature, so that we can make this program as successful as possible.

For those interested in signing up for the Solarize Mid Maine program, contact www.solarizemidmaine.com or call 619-4901.

John Reuthe is a home energy program evaluator and a residential energy program manager. He has been the director of Sustain Mid Maine Coalition’s Home Energy Program since 2010. Vaughan Woodruff is the owner of Insource Renewables of Pittsfield.

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