Mt. Abram plans solar project
An acre of solar panels planned for construction at Mt. Abram Ski Resort could generate as much electricity as the mountain uses in a year.
The resort this week submitted an application for the project to the Maine Department of Environmental Protection, according to Mt. Abram owner Matt Hancock.
The solar panel “field” would be located on a two-acre site between the main lodge and West Lodge.
The site had previously been approved by DEP for a snowmaking pond, Hancock said. The pond was never built.
The resort’s snowmaking operation accounts for most of its energy usage.
“We use about 450,000 kilowatt hours a year,” said Hancock. “Sixty percent of that is for snowmaking.”
The acre or so of panels could generate about 400,000 kilowatt hours annually, he said.
Mt. Abram hopes to bring those two figures closer together. This past summer, the resort undertook an energy audit, through Efficiency Maine, to pinpoint ways to use less energy. “We hope to get our usage below 400,000,” said Hancock.
If that can be done, he said, “we would then make more energy than we consume.”
But that would not mean skiers would see electrical lines running directly from the solar field to the lifts or snowmaking equipment.
Instead, the electricity would be sold to Central Maine Power, and the resort would buy back power.
Most of the solar power would be generated during the longer days of summer. In the winter, Hancock said, the solar site would only receive about 4.5 hours of sun a day.
The idea for solar energy was generated through a comprehensive analysis of the resort’s costs, 30 percent of which go to utilities, said Hancock.
Besides being a long-term money saver, he said, “We thought the project’s environmental consideration would resonate well with the skiing public.”
The solar field, mostly hidden in a clearing surrounded by trees, will also have little visual impact, he said. The panels will be mounted on ballasted legs and tilted toward the sun.
“There would be no hardship on any of our neighbors from this,” he said.
Wind power was not seriously considered, said Hancock, because of general opposition to it and because the permitting process can be so lengthy.
Tax credits sought
Solar projects are costly, Hancock said, and Mt. Abram hopes to be able to take advantage of a federal tax credit offer of 30 percent on the cost of the system. The tax credit program is slated to expire the end of this year, and it is unknown if it will be extended, said Hancock.
If the project receives DEP approval later this month, work could begin then, in order to qualify for the credit.
Or, if word is received soon that the credit program will be extended into 2011, work would likely wait until the end of ski season, Hancock said.
The solar project plan will be submitted to the Greenwood Planning Board next week.