Arthur Nerzig of ReVision Energy installs solar panels at the high school. (Photo by Jarrett Cannan)
Arthur Nerzig of ReVision Energy installs solar panels at the high school. (Photo by Jarrett Cannan)
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Camden Hills Regional High School paid a quarter of a million dollars for electricity for the year when they opened in 2001, according to facilities director Keith Rose. It dropped to about $80,000 a year with the addition of energy efficiency measures and the on-site windmill that students championed. Now, 588 solar electric panels that are currently being installed by ReVision Energy on three roofs, combined with new indoor and outdoor LED lighting, will drop the electricity bill to approximately $38,000 a year when the cost of installation is paid off in five to seven years..

That’s the ledger side of the story. The conservation effort   reduces atmospheric pollutants. 

“Our ultimate goal is to have a zero carbon footprint,” said Margo Murphy, a CHRHS science teacher who is an advisor for the student-led energy and conservation group that promoted the solar energy project.

The solar arrays will be up and running and generating electricity sometime in September. When extra electricity is generated, the school will get a credit that allows them to draw down power later, for up to one year. The half-million-dollar project, which was financed by ReVision Energy under a 20-year power-purchase agreement with the school district,  will end up costing the district less than the original investment.

Under a federal law that expires at the end of 2016, ReVision Energy can recover up to 30 percent of their investment in solar energy tax credits, plus claim depreciation  for the solar panels — benefits that allowed ReVision to finance the CHRHS project when no other investors stepped forward. ReVision plans to pass the  savings on to the school district. 

Homeowners are also eligible for the federal tax credit and can claim the 30-percent rebate and depreciation themselves. At the end of 2016, the rebate drops to 10 percent of the project cost. 

The student energy conservation group that championed the solar project was involved in policy efforts at the state level during the past year, an effort that three students said was educational about the political process. Shawn Alberton, a CHRHS senior, said the student group wrote legislators and pushed for Maine to supply state tax incentives — an effort that ultimately failed. Albertson said the state is missing a rare opportunity to push energy conservation forward.

“This was a huge project,” said Zoe Zwecker, a junior. It started with brainstorming, then trimming down the ideas, then moving forward to trying to find a funder for the solar project. When three attempts to secure funders failed, ReVision Energy founder Bill Behrens, whose children attend CHRHS, stepped in with a favorable contract that would allow CHRHS to move forward without upfront costs to the district. ReVision Energy paid for the solar panels and installation in return for a 20-year agreement with CHRHS. The school can purchase the equipment during the seventh year of the agreement, if they choose.