Emma Bouthillette, staff writer
A Connecticut-based company is offering a deal some towns and area nonprofits are finding hard to resist.
Using grant money from the federal stimulus, DCS Energy has been installing solar panel systems at no cost for municipalities and nonprofit organizations in Connecticut, Massachusetts, South Carolina, Florida, Rhode Island, California and now Maine.
The clock on the deal is ticking, however, according to DCS sales director Lori Donato. Unless the federal grant program is renewed, she said, the company has until Oct. 15 to finalize contracts with municipalities and nonprofits.
“We’re trying to get the word out to the York County area,” Donato said. “We’re hoping (the federal grant) will get renewed and we can offer it to the entire state.”
The system DCS Energy is offering to municipalities and nonprofits is valued at $117,000 once installed, Donato said. It can generate up to 18 kilowatts per meter of energy and save as much as $3,600 annually, she said.
It may not seem like a lot, but Kennebunk Town Manager Barry Tibbetts said in a tight budget year, every little bit helps.
Kennebunk Board of Selectmen has approved installations at the West Kennebunk Fire Station, Washington Hose Company, Dorothy Stevens Community Center and the teen center.
The police station is a fifth site for solar panels, but Tibbetts said he is waiting on approval from the Historic Preservation Committee.
The town budgets $120,000 for electricity annually. With rates from the Kennebunk Light & Power District, Tibbetts estimated the each system could save about $2,700 each, totalling an estimated $13,500 saved annually.
“It’s a pretty good opportunity. It doesn’t cost us anything and it saves money. Why wouldn’t we do it?” Tibbetts said.
Representatives from the United Way of York County, the towns of Arundel, Ogunquit, Wells and Eliot and the Sanford school system attended a presentation by Donato on Wednesday, Tibbetts said.
The company returns later this month for a second presentation at the Maine Town & City Management Association’s 66th annual New England Management Institute held August 24 to 26 at Sebasco Harbor Resort in Sebasco Estates, near Phippsburg.
“People are hopping on this really fast. It’s really a good deal for municipalities and nonprofits,” Tibbetts said.
Donato explained that once the panels are installed, the town or nonprofit benefits from electricity generated and DCS Energy sells the renewable energy credits. Such credits have been used by companies to offset the use of nonrenewable energy.
Since starting the program last year, DCS has installed about 100 systems and have 200 additional contracts pending, Donato said.
Here’s how it works: Once a town or nonprofit is interested, DCS Energy does a satellite review and then a site inspection to ensure the site qualifies for installation. They write up a report and a contract. Once the contract is signed, it takes between 60 and 90 days for funding approval and another 30 days for the equipment to be delivered and a day for installation.
Once solar light energizes the panels, electricity production starts. As the solar panels produce electricity, the building will use what is available before turning to the electrical company for back up. Donato explained that if the solar panels over-produce electricity, some may actually receive a credit on their utility bill.
The solar panels are on a five-year lease with no deposit or monthly payment for the municipality or nonprofit. After five years, the company donates the system. The plan offered to commercial clients is similar, but DCS Energy charges them $5 a month for five years with a $1 buyout at the end of the lease. DCS Energy retains the renewable energy credits and environmental assets for life of the system.
Tibbetts expects the Kennebunk systems to be installed sometime this fall.
The Kennebunkport selectmen are expected to take up a discussion on the solar panels this Thursday, according to Town Manager Larry Mead. The town is considering installations at the town hall, fire station, highway department and wastewater treatment plant buildings.
“(Considering) the benefit of electric cost deferred, it could add up to some significant money,” Mead said.