Town of Trenton looking to go solar

TRENTON — Following plans years in the making, town officials are continuing their discussions about incorporating solar energy to the town office on Oak Point Road and may be close to signing a contract with Sundog Solar, a solar energy company based in Searsport. It is an effort that has been largely spearheaded by Trenton resident Michael Gilmartin.

At its May 18 meeting, the town’s Board of Selectmen heard from Danny Piper of Sundog Solar, who had drawn up plans for the board in previous years and met again this time to discuss details and answer questions. 

The proposed plans are for a 48.9-kilowatt system to be installed on the roof of the town office, Piper said. The proposed contract would be a 25-year agreement for a system that generates about 61,000 kilowatt hours in the first year. The offer would be for 12.5 cents per kilowatt hour and would have the town locked in for 25 years at a fixed price increase for electricity of 1 percent every year. 

The town could also opt for a fixed discount instead of a fixed rate with annual increases.

Piper said that electricity rates have been rising and the trend is likely to continue despite expanding renewable energy sources. 

He estimated that the national average for rate increases is about 2.5 percent.

“The demand for power is growing exponentially,” he said. “There’s a growing need for power.”

Piper mentioned that if the town were to sign a contract with the company, it could choose to purchase the solar equipment from Sundog in year seven of the agreement. 

A potential timeline for the project is based on when and if the town signs its contract with Sundog. Piper estimated a Nov. 5 operating date, noting that the project’s 144 solar panels are not able to arrive until July and installation could be done in August or September.

“Basically, it’s turnkey,” he said of the operation. He explained that Sundog would own the equipment and the town would purchase power that the system generates at a discounted rate — about 25 percent less than what the town currently pays. 

The system’s estimated value is about $100,000, Piper said.

A link on the town’s website would allow residents to monitor the system.

Piper said the town would not be responsible for financing costs up front, and that would be paid for by Sundog.

“It’s just immediate cash flow savings,” Piper said. 

He said that the panels are under warranty for 27 years. At that point, the panels are estimated to generate 80 percent of the energy that is produced when the panels are brand new.

Maintenance of the system would be minimal and includes making sure system inverters are operating and conducting visual checks on the array system. 

As long as Sundog owns the equipment, “We maintain everything on this system,” Piper said, noting it is in the company’s interest to maintain efficiency so that enough power is produced to provide cash flow to offset the debt associated with the project.

Following the presentation, Selectman John Bennett said, “I would like to move forward,” and set a date to sign a contract.

The board decided to have Piper come to its next meeting on June 1 for further discussions and to bring in a sample of a contract based on the fixed discount model, rather than the fixed rate plan. 

Rebecca Alley

Rebecca is the Schoodic-area reporter and covers the towns of Eastbrook, Franklin, Hancock, Lamoine, Sorrento, Sullivan, Waltham, Winter Harbor and Trenton. She lives in Ellsworth with her husband and baby boy who was joyously welcomed in June 2020. Feel free to send tips and story ideas to [email protected]

Rebecca Alley