KENNEBUNKPORT, Maine — The town is expecting to save close to $30,000 on its electricity bill each year and reduce its carbon footprint, thanks to its participation in the Maine Net Billing Energy Program.
Selectmen voted unanimously Thursday, June 24, to authorize Town Manager Laurie Smith to enter into a contract with Encore Renewable Energy to purchase solar credits at discounted rates. The move is expected to save the town close to $600,000 throughout the 20-year life of the contract, according to Karina Graeter, the sustainability coordinator for the Southern Maine Planning and Development Commission.
“Wow,” said Selectman Allen Daggett. “That’s just plain great.”
The state’s net billing program was established by a state law passed in 2019. The legislation allowed Mainers to meter solar power on their roofs or take part in community solar farms. It also set up a new net energy billing program specifically for commercial and industrial customers, such as municipalities.
Encore Renewable Energy will build two solar farms in Athens, Maine, that will deliver electricity to Central Maine Power. Under the program, CMP will measure how much electricity it receives and will calculate how much it is worth in monetary credits. CMP will then apply those credits to the town’s bill.
“It’s a direct discount on your utility bill,” Graeter told the selectmen.
From there, Encore will send the town an invoice asking for payments for the credits, but at a discounted rate, Graeter added.
Kennebunkport is one of six municipalities — Ogunquit, Kittery, Old Orchard Beach, Waterboro, and Fryeburg are the others — that joined together earlier this year to use a single Request for Proposal process to attract a solar project enabling all communities to enter into a Net Energy Billing Credit Agreement (NEBCA). In January, selectmen authorized Smith to enter into a Memorandum of Understanding with the group of towns.
The collaborative received seven different bids from all types of companies, according to Graeter. The group of town managers evaluated each bid on such criteria as prices, the strength and experience of each company, the specific kinds of projects they were offering the town, and the likelihood of said projects making their way through development.
Graeter said the managers’ choice of Encore, based in Vermont, was clear.
“They really stood out far beyond all the other proposals,” she said. “It wasn’t really hard for us to decide.”
While Kennebunkport worked with the five other towns during the RFP process, the town will sign its own contract with Encore, according to Graeter.
Graeter said she met with Smith and Planning Director Werner Gilliam in recent weeks to discuss how much solar energy the town might want to purchase.
“We agreed upon Kennebunkport potentially being interested in purchasing 86% of its electricity for solar credits,” she said.
This means that the town would be allocated a certain amount of generation each year — about 864,800 kilowatt hours — from the two solar farms in Athens, Graeter added. Those kilowatt hours are each worth a credit value set by the Maine Public Utilities Commission, she added. Right now that value is set at 12.5 cents, but it varies from year to year, she said.
With the current math, Graeter said Kennebunkport would have about $108,600 in credits applied to the town’s utility bill but would pay only about $78,700, a 27.5% discount.
Selectman Ed Hutchins asked Graeter if the two solar farms in Athens are either now open or still under construction.
“They are not up and running yet,” Graeter replied. “They are in the development process.”
Graeter said part of that process involves securing financing to build the solar farms. Encore is securing the financing by having all of its solar contracted out to municipalities and other commercial customers.
“At this stage, they have their agreements signed, they have the solar farms designed, the land is leased, and I believe they have most of their local permits in place,” Graeter said. “If everything goes to plan, construction will happen this fall and winter. And hopefully the solar farms will be running by the end of this year or early next year.”
Graeter said the town will not start paying until the solar farms are actually generating electricity.