Thursday, December 9, 2010

Maine Ski Resorts Could Go Solar

A planned solar panel project at Mt. Abram, Maine could provide all the ski resort's energy without angering neighbors.

Mt. Abram wants to build a 1-acre field of solar panels it estimates could generate about 400,000 kilowatt hours of electricity annually. Mt. Abram owner Matt Hancock has submitted applications to the Greenwood Planning Board and the Maine Department of Environmental Protection.

Hancock said that despite strong winds on the mountain, wind turbines are not an option. “Wind power just creates so much contention,” Hancock said.

Proposed wind power projects on Spruce Mountain in Woodstock and Record Hill in Roxbury are both stuck on appeals by local groups who say the noise from turbines is disruptive and can cause health problems. Others say they are an eyesore.

Hancock said the panels are in a low-lying area surrounded by trees, so residents won't notice panels. He said solar power is a noninvasive alternative to turbines.

“When you're in a disposable income kind of business, as we are, you don't want enemies as neighbors,” Hancock said. “We want them happily coming to the resort every day.”

Greenwood Planning Board Chairman David Brainard said he agreed the solar panels would probably not be visible to residents. Brainard said he'd only glanced at Mt. Abram's submitted plans, but agreed that solar panels would be preferable to wind turbines.

A representative of the company was going to attend Monday's meeting of the Greenwood Planning Board but had to cancel. Hancock said a representative would be at the next board meeting, set for Jan. 3.

The DEP has approved building a pond as a snow-making source for the previous owners of the resort, but those plans were scrapped under the new ownership. However, the trees have already been cut on the 2-acre site located between the main lodge and the West Lodge.

Hancock said state law requires that Central Maine Power Co. buy energy from the mountain at the same rate they charge. So while most power production would be in the summer and most use would be in the winter, the goal would be to produce more annually than the mountain uses.

He said current use is around 450,000 kwh per year. He said that after an energy audit by Efficiency Maine, the resort is aiming for a reduction to 350,000 to 380,000 kwh with upgrades like new snow-making guns.

“We put in 60 new low-energy tower guns,” Hancock said. He said that would significantly reduce the amount of energy used in snow making.

He said the solar array and energy savings are part of a project called “Sustainable Slopes.” The plan, aside from eliminating the resort's energy bill, is to market the resort's commitment to sustainable energy.

“Outdoor recreational families are some of the most discerning to the environment and doing the right thing," Hancock said. "That's our market.”

Hancock declined to give a figure for the project but said it would be very expensive. He's hoping the DEP will approve the project by the end of the year to qualify for a 30 percent federal tax credit on solar projects. To qualify, work on the project must begin by the end of the year.

He said there was a chance the credit will be extended to next year. If the credit isn't extended and the DEP doesn't approve the plan by the end of the month, the resort will have to figure out how to fund that last 30 percent of the cost.

“Our financing on this project is dependent on that 30 percent tax credit,” Hancock said. If the resort doesn't get the credit, he said, “We have to go back to the drawing board as far as engineering the financial plan.”

He said the resort is now waiting to hear from the DEP. Mt. Abram is set to open to skiers on Saturday.


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