2015-07-10 / Front Page

Port to power up solar charging station

By Duke Harrington Staff Writer

KENNEBUNKPORT — Selectmen in Kennebunkport have committed themselves to conservation efforts, agreeing to give $4,500 to help install a solar-powered charging station for electric cars.

The Clipper Creek Level II EV unit will be placed at the Village Fire Station on Brown Street, where it will be powered by eight 255-watt photovoltaic panels placed on the building’s roof, creatinga2kilowattsolararray.Portland-basedReVisionEnergy, which has installed similar units at fire stations in York, Saco and Scarborough, has estimated the array will cost $9,085 to install. That includes $7,650 for the solar electric system and $1,435 for the EV charger, capable of fully juicing an all-electric vehicle in about four hours.

When not being used to charge a vehicle, the solar panels will supply power to the fire station.

“This will eventually pay for itself,” said Sarah Lachance, chairman of the Kennebunkport Conservation Commission, at the June 25 selectmen’s meeting.

According to data supplied by ReVision, the solar unit can be expected to supply 2,552 kilowatt hours of AC electricity per year, equating to an annual savings of $357, assuming a fee of 14 cents per kilowatt hour. At that rate, it would take more than 25 years to hit the break-even point. However, Town Manager Laurie Smith pointed out that the town currently pays 11 cents per kilowatt hour, which would serve to extend the return on investment.

Still, Lachance said there was more to be gained from the project than simple dollars and cents. The idea, she said, is to help foster a sea change in sustainable transportation.

“The whole point of this initiative is that the reason we are not seeing a lot of electrical vehicles out there is because there aren’t a lot of places to charge them,” she said.

State law does not permit the resale of electricity, so the plan will allow motorists to use the unit free of charge, Lachance said, suggesting it could be a boon to the town’s tourist economy.

“It’s like coming to Kennebunkport and getting a free tank of gas,” she said.

The Kennebunk Light and Power District recently installed a similar unit at the company’s office on Factory Pasture Lane. South Portland also has two free public charging stations, at City Hall and at its Nelson Road community center, as well as one at its planning and development office, used to power the city’s growing fleet of electric vehicles. That charging station, like the one planned for Kennebunkport, is powered by solar panels on the building’s roof, which feed power to the planning office when not in use to charge vehicles. ReVision installed those panels in 2012. However, the set up in South Portland is different than the one planned for the Port.

In that case, ReVision covered the $76,459 needed to install a larger array of solar panels on the roof of South Portland’s planning office, and leases them to the city for a nominal fee under what it calls a “power purchase agreement.”

The city now buys its electricity from ReVision at a rate guaranteed to be 2 cents less per kilowatt hour than the rate it previously paid under a bulk purchase deal with Maine Power Options, which was 12 cents per kilowatt hour.

After six years, the city could continue to buy electricity from ReVision, or it could buy the solar panels outright for $20,000.

According to South Portland City Planner Tex Haeuser, the 19.2 kilowatt system, capable of generating 24,000 kilowatt hours of energy per year, has saved the city roughly 10 percent off its monthly energy bill since it went live.

Still, while not as large as the South Portland unit, every little bit helps reduce the overall dependence on fossil fuels, according to Lachance, a goal that, for her, is a personal mission.

“Part of why I do this is because I’m a mom with a kid with asthma,” she said.

Lachance introduced of the concept of constructing a solar-powered charging station at the Feb. 26 selectmen’s meeting. At that session, the board elected to place the charging unit at the fire station, rather than lose a parking spot in Dock Square. However, it tasked Lachance with gathering the funds to make the project happen.

She did that by raising $3,400 through Campaign Earth, the nonprofit she runs out of Cape Porpoise. Another $550 was supplied by the conservation commission, using yearend money left over in the annual kitty.

At their June 25 meeting, selectmen voted 3-0, with Patrick Briggs and Edward Hutchins absent, to match Lachance’s efforts by donating $4,500 from their $30,000 contingency account. That money will be released, Chairman Sheila Matthews-Bull said, once Lachance raises the final $500 needed to hit ReVision’s construction estimate.

At the same June 25 session, Lachance also provided an update on the Skystream 3.7 wind turbine installed at the police station in May 2011.

According to Lachance, the software that measures the power output of the turbine never functioned properly. Lachance said she got “a huge runaround for about six months” trying to get the issue sorted out, an effort that ultimately ended when Skystream went bankrupt.

However, since the turbine was put up, the town has saved between $700 and $788 per year to power the police station. Even so, Lachance said with no clear data from the Skystream software, it can’t be known how much of that savings is directly attributable to the turbine.

“Still, knowing there’ve been no efficiency improvements to the building, clearly the wind turbine is providing some significant savings,” she said.

Lachance said there have been recent complaints from neighbors of increased noise from the wind turbine. However, she failed to detect anything out of the ordinary during two site visits, she said.

“If you listen, you can kind of hear the difference between it and the rustling of the leaves, but there’s so much ambient noise it didn’t stick out to me as being problematic,” she said.

Meanwhile, routine maintenance of the turbine is estimated at $100 per year and will be covered by the conservation commission, Lachance said. To keep the blades turning she plans to mimic what Skystream did when it inspected the machine.

“It wasn’t much more than a visual and listening inspection,” she said. “I feel like I can probably do that, especially now that if there’s a major mechanical problem we may not be able to make a significant change anyway.”

“It is what it is,” said Matthews-Bull, of the Skystream bankruptcy. “But we are seeing some savings. So, that’s the good news.”

However, beyond whatever Lachance can do to keep the turbine running, the unit may simply be allowed to live out its lifetime, to be taken apart whenever it eventually breaks down.

“If there is an issue, and there’s no warranty, to spend a couple thousand dollars to fix it when we’re saving less than $1,000 a year doesn’t make sense,” Matthews-Bull said. “And that’s if you can even get parts.”

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