Category Archives: March 15

When saving the town money is also about doing something good for the environment

All PostsBy the end of this month, St. George Conservation Commission member Dan Verrillo expects that the town will begin getting most all the electricity it needs from the sun—at a cost cheaper than the electricity it has been purchasing from Central Maine Power (CMP). In fact, pointing to a graph that shows, year by year, projected costs, outputs and savings, he says that over time the town could end up saving hundreds of thousands of dollars on energy expenditures.

“This is a good day for us,” Verrillo says with quiet satisfaction. “We’re doing something that is good for the environment and we’re saving the town money.”

While the Conservation Commission and other local green-energy advocates have long had a goal of moving the town in this direction, Verrillo and fellow commission colleague Joss Coggeshall began doing the legwork to make the town solar project a reality about four years ago. “Solar is key to solving the problem of reducing the carbon footprint, but we always put the economics first because saving money applies to everybody, no matter what their belief might be [about global warming],” Verrillo points out. “My role in all this was basically to bug everybody to get the task done.”

What got the ball rolling in earnest, Verrillo says, was when he discovered that there were companies in Maine who were willing, at no cost to the homeowner, to put solar panels on individual homes that had the right kind of roofs—ones that were solid, south-facing and inclined at an optimum angle.

Dan Verrillo

“Their pitch was interesting,” Verrillo explains. “They said we’ll put the panels up there for free, then we’ll charge you for the electricity the panels generate, but at or below the going rate. It seemed like a good deal for people who wanted to go green.” Verrillo explains that the scheme was economical for the energy-supplying companies because, in addition to benefitting from federal discounts for supplying green energy to homeowners, the roofs were free, the cost of solar panels was now relatively inexpensive and the panels had become much more energy efficient. Another good deal for the homeowners was that after 30 years they would take ownership of the panels and the electricity generated would also be free to them.

Verrillo’s next step was to discover if a similar arrangement might be available for a municipality like St. George. “I found out that you could make agreements with companies where they own the panels and they are just parking them on your roof and they generate the electricity and then sell it to you either at a fixed rate, or for a bit lower than CMP’s rate—there were different options. The town would be obligated to buy the electricity from the company. You make an agreement for 20 years—it is called a Power Purchase Agreement (PPA), which is standard.” After the 20 years the system—and the energy generated—would belong to the town.

The PPA seemed too good to be true to some town officials, Verrillo acknowledges, partly because many people still think about solar technology as it was in the past—costly to install and fraught with maintenance issues. It was hard to believe that in this case installation was free and, as Verrillo notes, “nowadays each panel is metered, so they are all independent—it used to be if a leaf fell on one panel they all went down.”

But once Verrillo and Coggeshall demonstrated to the Select Board’s satisfaction that solar is a reliable and cost-effective technology, especially against a likely future of increased costs for energy from non-renewable sources, they ran into a glitch. It involved the availability of something called “net metering,” which was crucial to the success of the project. This was because the town wasn’t interested in going “off the grid,” which would require the expense of battery storage. Instead, the plan required that it be possible to use CMP for delivery of the power generated.

Verrillo explains: “With CMPs permission, anybody in this state generating energy using wind or solar power can hook up to CMP with a meter and supply the whole grid, which CMP owns, with electricity. CMP will say that any you don’t use on site, any that leaves, we’ll credit it to you if you don’t use it. So you actually have a bucket you are filling with energy. So in the summer you are likely producing more than you are using and that is going out to the grid where somebody else will use it. In the winter, when you’re not generating as much because of cloud cover, and you’re using more electricity, you get to use up what you supplied in the summer. They give you a year to use it.”

The problem was that Maine’s governor wanted to get rid of net metering. So St. George’s select board decided to put the solar project on hold until it was clear how the state would proceed.

The argument against net metering, says Verrillo, was that solar energy was only for the rich, rather than a cost-efficient technology that could save all sorts of people money, including people like those getting their panels installed for free by the solar energy producers Verrillo had learned about. “CMP went along with the governor’s critique, saying we should pay for the use of its power lines. To that, we and others in favor of net metering said, ‘How much will it cost to build another power plant? In the summer we’re actually giving CMP a boost because when you need more power we’re supplying it. And then in the winter CMP doesn’t have to shut down any power plants, so we’re saving it money. And we don’t put extra wear and tear on CMPs electrical lines.’ In other words, we argued that we were actually helping the power companies and I believe they knew it.”

Still, the governor continued vetoing bills that favored net metering. And the governor gave the task of getting rid of net metering to the Public Utilities Commission, whose members are appointed by the governor. The commission ruled that all renewable energy systems that are in effect or being installed during 2017 could continue with net metering, but that the commission will phase it out over 15 years.

“So I said to the select board, if we want to save money, we’ve got to get our system installed this year,” Verrillo recounts. An ad hoc committee of the board consisting of Richard Bates, Jerry Hall and Verrillo was set up to make the installation happen if the residents of the town agreed. The proposal was placed on the ballot last June and the public voted for it by a significant margin.

The ad hoc committee then looked over the three best bids for the installation and recommended ReVision Energy, the largest of the companies competing for the PPC. Ironically, during the time it took for the Public Utilities Commission to make its ruling on net-metering, solar installation costs had come down even more so that the town was able to install a bigger system than originally planned—a 67-kilowatt system that will generate about 80,000 kilowatts a year or 90 percent of town usage. And, luckily, because time was getting short to complete the project in 2017, the Public Utilities Commission extended the deadline for installing new net-metering solar power systems to May 2018 because the commission needed extra time to figure out how to implement its phase-out ruling.

ReVision Energy began installing the solar energy system at the transfer station in early February of this year. CMP should have it hooked up to the grid by the end of this month.

Once the new system is up and running, Verrillo estimates that it will save the town more than $1,000 a year in energy costs. But the Conservation Commission and the select board’s ad hoc committee, Verrillo says, are proposing something that has the potential to increase those savings considerably.

“Now, we could save $1,000 a year for 20 years, which is when we will own the system. And then the system is likely to be good for another 20 years after that [with a savings of at least $10,000 a year]. But we are recommending that the town buy the system after 6 years. So if it costs over $150,000 to put the system in, if we buy it after 6 years at fair market value, which ReVision believes is half the installation cost, we would pay a little less than $80,000 for it. At that point we get to start saving $10,000 a year, not just $1,000. And it will run for at least another 30 years after that so we’re predicting that over time we’ll save hundreds of thousands of dollars [and by year 12 the system will be paid for].” Again, if non-renewable energy costs go up, so will the savings.

“I’m not greedy that we’re going to save particular amounts of money,” Verrillo admits. “I just want to save money and do good.”

Verrillo and the rest of the town’s Conservation Commission see the town’s new solar power system as providing an opportunity to help community members—especially its youth—see for themselves how solar works and the benefits this type of energy can bring. And he feels confident that future governors will restore net metering because of its positive economic and environmental impact.

A ceremonial “switch pulling” will be held at the transfer station at 3pm on Monday, April 9th, when everyone can get a good look at the new system. At 4pm there will be refreshments and an information session at the firefighters’ meeting room at the town office. ReVision Energy will be there to answer questions about the system and the services they offer. —JW

PHOTO: Anita Siegenthaler

Nature shufflin’—March style

Nature bummin’ with Kirk Gentalen

There’s a beaver slapping in there somewhere.

As far as weather goes, March rolled in like a warm, drippy towel. A towel that was mistakenly dropped in the bath but had to be used anyway because “it is what it is.” Snow and pond ice melted away seemingly overnight, leaving one with feelings of “too soon.” Knowing that there is another winter just 10 months away is hardly a consolation prize—winter is simply the best, never want to see it go (not that it is necessarily over yet, if you know what I mean).

A crepuscular stroll to pay my final respects to the thick winter ice that no longer can support humanoids anymore was interrupted by a loud “SLAP.” It was a jarring slap, unexpected and unprovoked—came out of nowhere. More importantly though, it was the kind of “wake up” slap that pulls you out of your head and reminds you that life marches on after the snow and ice are gone. And then there was another “SLAP,” and I moved on completely from the thick ice of a week before.

The mad slapper was a beaver (Castor canadensis), of course, and it was using a newly opened and expanding ice-hole to announce not only that it survived the winter but also that it wasn’t entirely too happy about something (most likely my presence). Beaver tail slaps are a cool, if not startling use of non-vocal communications to relay potential danger and/or aggression. The sound of a tail slap will inspire any beavers on land or shore to quickly retreat to the safety of deep waters. “Deep-water safety” is the basic inspiration behind beavers damming up streams and creeks—five feet is safer than one foot. Safety first!

Beaver societies are closely knit and family-focused with colonies following a matriarchal order (picture a female beaver saying, “this is Big Mama’s lodge!”). To a certain extent this social dynamic is even reflected in beaver tail-slapping. While male beavers tend to tail-slap more often than females, members of a colony are more likely scurry to deeper waters when an adult female does the slapping. Apparently beavers take dangers more seriously when they are relayed by a female beaver’s tail. Do male/female slaps sound different? or does the colony know who’s doing the slapping simply by being aware of where other individuals are at the “moment of slappage?” Either way I got the message after the fourth slap and retreated as darkness was taking hold anyway.

American Woodcock

My return home was balanced with the familiar “Peent” of an American Woodcock, the first I’d heard this year. A true harbinger of spring, woodcocks are a somewhat early bird returner to breed in Maine. A shorebird of the woods, male American Woodcocks prefer field edges, especially those bordered with shrubs, as their stage for their impressive aerial courtship display.

After “peenting” somewhere between several and (seemingly) hundreds of times, a male woodcock will take to the skies and slowly ascend hundreds of feet in a large circling pattern (not unlike a raptor catching a thermal) flapping and buzzing the entire time. Once at its apex the male lets gravity take over and the woodcock falls in a zig-zaggy formation back to the ground—essentially landing in the same spot where it took off. Three of a woodcock’s primary (flight) feathers are modified and create whistling sounds throughout the entire aerial portion. And then he repeats over and over again. The gusto of a bird performing such maneuvers in early spring, even at times when there is snow on the ground, makes it a hit every year!

That night I got home with a few new questions and a slightly revamped perspective, which is really about as much as one can ask of a hike. Winter certainly is the best, but soon spring will be here and that will be the best. At some point summer will arrive and will be the best then. And of course autumn then follows and will become the best at that time. And then soon we’ll be back to the winter, the best of all. At that moment.

PHOTOS: Kirk Gentalen

A field trip focused on ‘A Human Crisis’

by Madison Barbour

On Tuesday February 27th, 2018 the 7th graders went on a field trip to the Jonathan Frost Gallery in Rockland to a show called “People on the Move: A Human Crisis.” At the gallery we all observed the artwork created by refugees. We had a sheet and wrote down what paintings inspired us most and reasons that people had to leave their homes. There are 65 million people on the move right now because they were driven from their homes to get to a safer place. A couple of the causes were because of war and famine.

There was a girl named Veronica who came to the gallery to talk to us about her experience and what she did in Tanzania, Africa. Veronica was born in Tanzania and her parents and older siblings were born in the Congo. In Tanzania they lived in a refugee camp and they lived in a clay brick house that they built. Veronica enjoys sports, she plays basketball, soccer, softball and track. She can speak almost four languages. She can speak English, Swahili, Kibembe, and some French. Veronica goes to school now at Oceanside Middle School and she is in 8th grade.

We really enjoyed this field trip. Thank you, Ms. Kit Harrison for organizing it for us, and Mr. McPhail and Ms. Ryan for going with us.

(Barbour is a Grade 7 student at the St. George School. Kit Harrison is a language teacher.)

PHOTO: Kit Harrison

St. George Historical Society project—and website!

The Brown house on Main Street in Tenants Harbor

It would surprise you how much history exists in town hidden away in attics, trunks or other storage areas. Several years ago Dana Smith began a project of gathering whatever he could—photos, newspaper clippings, etc.—and chronicling it in 3-ring binders at the Marshall Point Light House Museum. Dana would make photocopies or take pictures of these items, and sort them into the various categories of sports, houses, schools, etc. Last time I knew there were over 30 binders that Dana had created. Some of the material was also donated to the Historical Society in order to preserve it and provide safekeeping. These items have been cataloged and are stored in a vault at the town office.

From Jane Brown’s collection

Recently I decided to begin a new phase of what Dana began—digitizing the collection, but also continuing the process of collecting local history. I have started an archive of digital images, copying from the collection and adding what has been generously donated by others. Judy Smalley of Hampton, N.H., provided some old tintypes, photos, deeds and wills—which I scanned and returned, along with a CD of the images—of the Smalley and Fogerty family. Jane Brown asked me about an old dresser she had in the house that had “H F K, Tenants Harbor” stenciled on the bottom of the drawer. I told her about the H. F. Kalloch store that used to be on Main Street in Tenants Harbor, and then asked her about any old pictures she may have in the house (knowing that the house has been in the Brown family since it was built in the 1870s). Jane provided me with some old tintypes and a photo album for scanning. Again, I processed and promptly returned them with a CD of the images. One of those images appears with this article.

From Judy Smalley’s collection

Along with this project has been the creation of a new website­—www.stgeorgehistory.com­—that is still in its early stages, but has over 300 postcard images of the area. Thanks to Steve Adams, who allowed the scanning of his postcard collection, there will be about another 100 cards added soon to the website. This website also has a section called Faces of St. George. It has some pictures of people who were part of the history of St. George. Most of the pictures are identified, but it has been suggested that a section be added of people that are currently unidentified in hopes that some people will recognize an old aunt or uncle, or maybe granddad’s cousin, and a connection will be made. The two images shown here are such photos.

If you have some history of St. George and would like to share it, you can call me at 701-9750 or email me at johnmfalla1954@gmail.com. —John Falla

Letter

To the editor:

On December 18th a Fabian Oil truck tipped over while making a delivery heating oil to the Anderson residence on The Glenmere Road, spilling 1,700 gallons of heating oil.

Not a good thing. This is considered a “significant” spill. Both the topography of the location and the severe weather has made it harder to clean up and predict the flow of the oil through the fractures and faults in the bedrock.

In the two months following the spill, there has been lack of information and communication on all levels. This has caused frustration and mounting concern, not only for the Andersons, but for those in the surrounding, downhill, Horse Point Road neighborhood and the marsh.

Most of us first heard about the spill through the February 6th article in the Portland Press Herald, more than a month later! Additional coverage appeared in the Village Soup and the Friends of St. George (FOSG) alerted its members in the February 20th email bulletin.

Though the Town of St. George has no legal responsibility in such a spill, it could have made information available to residents on the town website or at the Town Office. Since it has not done so, an information gap opened, resulting in much confusion and misinformation.

To fill this gap, a group of neighbors has established contact and met with the DEP’s Dan Courtmanch. He is updating the group and FOSG regularly as test results become available.

The FOSG website at http://www.friendsofstgeorge.org/ has more detailed information and links and will continue to provide regular updates.

This is what we know at this point. Although the DEP responded within hours of the spill, bad weather slowed the clean up by St. Germain Collins, the company hired by Fabian Oil.

Cleanup of a 500-foot perimeter area is ongoing and directed and supervised by the DEP to include:

• removal of contaminated soil
• visual scans for standing oil within the original perimeter three times a week
• monitoring of five recently drilled monitoring wells near the original 500-foot perimeter
• expanded, fixed monitoring and visuals scans at level of the wetlands downhill from the spill site.

Anyone in the area who smells oil in their water should call the DEP at (800) 482-0777 immediately. This is an unpredictable, long-term waiting game.

Wende McIlwain
FOSG Chair