It’s that time again—the snow has melted, revealing lots of litter accumulated through the winter on the town’s roads. To clean up the debris, this year’s Roadside Clean-Up will be held on Saturday, May 12, 2018.
The event will start at 7:30 am at the Town Office. Volunteers can pick up heavy-duty bags for trash, plastic buckets for recycling, and sign up for a segment of road to be cleaned. There will be maps of the town on which you can sign up for a portion of a roadway.
New this year will be a list of “problem areas”—orphaned segments of roads that don’t seem to ever be cleaned or those that need extra TLC. The Solid Waste & Recycling Committee encourages volunteers to consider taking on a segment or a whole road on this list. If you would like to sign up for your favorite thoroughfare early, the list of these roads in addition to the map of all available sites will be posted in the all-purpose room of the Town Office beginning Monday, May 7.
As a send-off to the volunteers, a pancake breakfast is offered, beginning at 7:30 am, sponsored by the St. George Days Committee as a fundraiser for the activities offered during the July celebration.
As an added incentive, volunteers can sign up, on a first-come, first-served, basis to receive free tickets generously donated by the Monhegan Boat Line.
The committee encourages volunteers to separate all material that appears to be recyclable and place it in the buckets. The trash and recyclables can be taken directly to the Transfer Station or left by the side of the road. Members of the committee will be available to help with the drop-off at the Transfer Station and also will pick up any waste and recycling left on the side of the road.
If you can’t participate on the 12th, please clean up in front of your own home or business on another day. We welcome all efforts to keep our roads litter-free. Together, let’s keep St. George beautiful!
—Wendy Carr, St. George Solid Waste & Recycling Committee
Tenants Harbor resident Connie Chandler-Ward died Monday, April 2 after an automobile accident in Warren. She was ordained an Episcopal priest the first month after the Episcopal Church allowed the ordination of women in 1977. After a tenure as associate rector of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Charlottesville, Va., she was appointed Chaplain of Wellesley College in 1980 and served in that position for 10 years. In 1990 she left Wellesley and came to Tenants Harbor where she and two other priests, Rosanna Kazanjian and Judith Carpenter, founded the Greenfire Retreat House on the Wallston Road. Over the years that core community expanded to include a number of other Episcopal priests and lay women.
A key element of the Greenfire ministry was, according to Carpenter, its commitment to doing deep, inner work in the context of circles of women. In addition to offering hospitality for women on retreat and a variety of workshops, weekly meditation circles for local women followed by pot-luck suppers were the heartbeat of the enterprise. In addition, Chandler-Ward had the idea of also offering something called “Work Visions,” in which three Greenfire community members would meet with a woman for three session of two hours each, listening closely to her work-life questions and struggles and seeking to offer back to her what they were each hearing so that, Carpenter says, “She could more clearly and deeply hear herself. In their feedback, women told us that, although they had initially been quite intimidated by the thought of meeting with two or three of us, it felt natural almost immediately. We realized that this was simply what women have done for one another from time immemorial: We gather in a circle and offer one another her own turn, her own time to be heard.”
When Greenfire closed in 2007 Chandler-Ward and her partner Suzanne Chambliss Neil moved to a residence on School Street to be near Chandler-Ward’s longtime friend and fellow Greenfire community member Adelaide Winstead. Chandler-Ward, who had a lifelong passion for choral music, sang with the Down East Singers and with Solace, an a cappella choir who sing almost exclusively to those who are dying. —JW
By Dave Schmanska
On May 14, 2018 residents of St. George will be asked to vote on a $2.64 million rehabilitation and development project at the former St. George Marine property at 10 Cold Storage Road, in Port Clyde. The first phase of the project was completed in 2015 when the town purchased the property which adjoins the existing town landing. The second phase has been to develop a construction plan to repair, improve and expand the property into a facility that has adequate infrastructure to adapt and support a wide range of future commercial and recreational activities. The final phase will begin the gradual development of a plan to use the new facility once the voters approve a construction plan.
The planning process has been led by the Harbor Committee chaired by Dan Morris of Port Clyde. “During the purchase process we heard loud and clear that residents wanted to maintain and enhance access to a working waterfront,” Morris says. “That message resonates with the Harbor Committee and is an important part of the Town’s Comprehensive Plan. It was the key guiding principle to our work”.
The process, which took more than a year, was assisted by planning consultants from the Musson Group and engineers from GF Johnston and Associates. The essence of the plan is to create a single waterfront facility by connecting the existing town landing to the new property. This would be accomplished by filling in two areas with stone and would nearly double the usable wharf surface by adding 9,400 square feet. It would also increase dock frontage by over 150 feet. The plan has the potential for increased floats for docking, a second improved launch ramp, some additional parking and basic amenities such as shoreside benches and walkways.
“There are site considerations for certain”, explains Noel Musson of the Musson Group. “Our charge from the committee was to help develop a plan that wasn’t simply a fix, but rather a long-term repair and expansion of the property to create as much flexibility as possible for the town. We assessed the issues that led to the failed southwest corner, conducted studies of soil on the sea floor, and estimated depth to ledge in the area. Our engineers then developed an estimate of the construction cost.”
Morris adds, “This solution has a life-span of 75 years or more and it will allow the Town to have control of a waterfront access point at a time when access is shrinking locally and statewide. The Committee feels that this approach is a better value for the Town’s dollars versus a more costly option involving many cycles of continuous repair and improvement”.
The project has the support of the Harbor Committee, Select Board and Budget Committee. The proposed financing method is to obtain a 20-year bond. Any grant options that could offset cost in the future will be evaluated. The property tax impact to the average homeowner would be approximately $60 per year, or $1,200 over the twenty-year period. The vote by secret ballot will occur on May 14 at the Town Office. Concerns about traffic congestion, safety of users, and the final use plan for the facility were raised at recent public meetings. The Select Board has committed to continued work on these issues.
My feeling is that this project is about preservation of waterfront access, and the creation of potential options for the town and those who use the sea to earn a living. The face of the working waterfront has changed and will continue to change over time. We don’t know if the future will bring new types of aquaculture, additional harvesting of rock weed, a rebound in ground fishing or something we haven’t thought of yet. What we do know, is that as that face changes, this property will be designed to meet those needs.
In conjunction with the Select Board, The Harbor Committee will continue to work with The Musson Group and GF Johnston and Associates to refine the plan, explore grant opportunities, and address some of the concerns raised at the public meetings.
“For the first time a tractor trailer delivering to Town will be able to turn around in Port Clyde instead of backing down main street”, says Morris. “Improvements like this will not completely solve the midsummer congestion issue, but they will go a long way toward bettering it. The committee believes that this plan meets our goal of positioning the town to adapt to the future, and it takes advantage of a ‘once-in-a-lifetime’ opportunity.”
Additional information about the project can be found on the Town’s website (www.stgeorgemaine.com) or by stopping at the Town Office.
(Schmanska is St. George’s Harbormaster.)
In 2016, fresh from her experience working to help set up the Tenants Harbor Fishermen’s Coop, longtime seasonal St. George resident Merritt Carey got an idea for a new venture that had the potential to benefit local lobstermen even more. What about getting local fishermen involved in the emerging scallop aquaculture industry?
“We formed the fishermen’s coop and simultaneously I was doing some consulting for Coastal Enterprises Inc. (CEI),” Carey, a lawyer turned project developer with a focus on fisheries-related projects, explains. “CEI does a lot—they administer the Working Waterfront program and they are the ones who were investing in and trying to promote scallop aquaculture in Maine through a technology transfer with Japan. Because I was doing this consulting work I got to know something about that and thought it was pretty cool, so I began talking to Peter Miller [a member of the Tenants Harbor Fishermen’s Coop] about it.”
Carey and Miller contacted Dana Morse of Maine Sea Grant at the University of Maine, a program that supplies marine science support on issues of concern to Maine’s coastal communities. “He came along and he, Peter, Chris Cook and I went out and looked around Penobscot Bay at potential scallop aquaculture sites just for the fun of it,” Carey says. “And we got a lot of information from him about what was involved.”
Carey and Miller’s researches also led them to a handful of others in the Penobscot Bay area who were experimenting with raising scallops—Brendan Atwood out of Pleasant Island working with Skip Connell out of Spruce Head, Marsden Brewer and his son Bobby in Stonington. “At this point we decided to set up a coop because I knew how to do that,” Merritt notes. “Because it’s not cheap to get into scallop aquaculture and because it’s a slightly different skill set, the coop provides the entity that can raise funds through grant writing [for the expensive equipment required—about $87,500 so far]—and a way to share information. It’s very organic. We’ve named it the Maine Aquaculture Coop. We were the first and perhaps we’re the only aquaculture coop in the state.”
A compelling reason to give scallop aquaculture a try, says Miller, is to provide an additional income stream for younger lobster fishermen. “This is for the next generation, in my opinion. I’m 66. I always had the diversification of the fisheries that my son or the younger guys don’t have anymore. I could go ground fishing, I could go scalloping, go lobstering, just go season to season and make a living. The younger fishermen cannot any longer get a scallop license or an elver license. The ground fish are controlled by the Feds and you need to own quota and have a NE Multispecies permit—which are no longer available, except by purchase. They are prohibitively expensive. Sometimes into the hundreds of thousands of dollars. The shrimp season has been closed for three years now with no idea of when or if it will ever reopen. The urchin fishery is a closed fishery for both dragging and diving. Most all or any fishery that a young fisherman could diversify into are closed or no new licenses are being issued. So scallop aquaculture is hopefully something that many fishing communities can do and keep the money here.”
The choice of scallop aquaculture over other types of acquaculture, Miller adds, was a calculated one. “What we looked at, number one, was that no one was really doing it with scallops, so why not be number one? Also, scallops are a fairly high value item, so if we’re going to put the effort in, let’s make it worth it.”
For the past 20 years or so, efforts to successfully “farm” scallops had been frustrated by technological problems—largely because the focus was on trying to utilize the “cage” system used in oyster aquaculture and this didn’t work well for raising scallops, which need more room to grow. The key breakthrough came when fishermen like Marsden Brewer in Stonington and entities like CEI began looking to Japan for ideas.
The Japanese method focuses on raising the scallops from spat (or larvae)—which the Maine Aquaculture Coop fishermen collect wild—by hanging them in the water column in lantern nets for a couple of years. Ear hanging, which involves drilling a hole in the scallop ear (the protruding margin of shell near where the two shells join), is a method of choice to grow juveniles to maturity after the lantern-net stage.
While CEI has been focusing on testing ear-hanging technology, the Maine Aquaculture Coop, Carey and Miller say, has become focused on developing a market for what they call the “intermediary culture” of juvenile scallops, or “live in-shell baby sea scallops”—scallops not yet large enough to ear hang. “Ninety percent of the spat you collect to grow will not be ear hung because there just isn’t the space in the ocean to do that,” Miller points out. “So you can only hang about 10 percent. So what do you do with the other 90 percent? There’s actually a market for that size among chefs.”
Carey adds, “The nice thing is that selling these baby scallops gets you in the black sooner, it’s a little more novel and that sea-to-table story is a little quicker.”
Miller has been raising scallops in lantern nets on two 400-foot-square Limited-Purpose Aquaculture one-year leases. Other coop members also have these types of leases, and about 10 fishermen have been collecting spat. “It’s all more labor-intensive than any of us imagined,” Carey says with a rueful smile. The next step is for several fishermen to apply together for an “Experimental” (Limited-Purpose) lease which is for three years and covers up to four acres, with the requirement to share data with the state’s Department of Marine Resources. Eventually, the coop hopes its members can qualify for Standard leases of up to 100 acres for 10 years.
An obvious question is whether this type of deep-water aquaculture will raise objections from local lobstermen, whose ability to set traps might be limited by leases. Ironically, both Carey and Miller say, the tension between lobstering and scallop aquaculture is crucial to the coop’s goal of keeping profits from raising scallops “at the shore.”
Carey explains: “The money from lobstering has stayed in these coastal communities because of the owner/operator requirement, so you can never scale up lobstering—although, even so, it has been consolidated and it has become a more competitive environment. But the owner/operator requirement and the limited-entry fishery has by the very nature of its structure kept the money at the shore. So all the other fisheries, in various ways, they can be consolidated at a corporate level. So that could be true of aquaculture because there is no owner/operator requirement. There is nothing keeping a big corporation from getting massive lease sites—except for the lobster fishermen who always will have a say in limiting leases if it’s productive bottom. ‘I fish that bottom so you can’t make it a lease site.’”
Miller drives home the point: “Because lobstermen and lobstering are so important on the coast, if aquaculture is going to gain speed on the coast, the lobstermen are going to have to help usher it in.” For this reason the Maine Aquaculture Coop is primarily composed of commercial lobstermen, the very people who have a vested interest in not allowing scallop aquaculture to restrict lobstering. The lease sites Miller chose, for example, cover an area he knows from his own long experience as a lobsterman to be unproductive bottom. And he sees lobstering and scallop farming as a seamless fit. “Our model is that I can go out with my sternman and also tend my two lines of lantern baskets.”
Right now, the Maine Aquaculture Coop has a widespread membership, although the actual farming is primarily occurring in Penobscot Bay. Carey says she is also getting many email enquiries from interested fisherman all along the coast. The Island Institute has asked the coop to run their Aquaculture Business Development program in scallops and the group has also recently partnered with the University of Maine on a grant application to do some community studies about what makes aquaculture a success in rural communities like St. George and Stonington.
“We really want to be the place where fishermen who want to be involved in scallop aquaculture can come to get involved,” Carey says. “It’s exciting that so many people are interested in what we’re doing. We just want to make sure that coastal communities aren’t forgotten with all this money that is coming into the state and all this push to develop aquaculture at a commercial level.”—JW
PHOTOS: Courtesy Maine Aquaculture Coop
Nature bummin’ with Kirk Gentalen—
Migration is pretty cool, and the “moving from one place to another” as a survival behavior can be observed across the spectrum of the animal kingdom. From the incredible journey of Monarch butterflies, to American lobsters that seasonally move to and from deeper waters, or the springtime return (and subsequent fall departure) of brilliantly patterned and melodic Warblers—migration and its associated lessons are well represented on the St. George peninsula.
As far as the category of “late March, relatively warm, rainy night” migrations is concerned though, it’s amphibians that rule! On evenings when temperatures first reach a toasty 40 degrees (or higher), and the ground is wet with rain, wood frogs and spotted salamanders act as if a starter’s pistol has declared that a race has begun. With frogs hopping and salamanders cruising (I think that’s what they do), a somewhat chaotic scene can appear “out of nowhere” as they make their way through the woods, with some populations even crossing roads to vernal pools in hopes of breeding. A race worth running! When the timing is right, these are the nights that family drives were made for.
Vernal, or “spring” pools are bodies of water that “go completely dry” on enough of a regular basis so fish and other predators can’t establish populations within. The fewer predators, the safer life is for eggs. Young spotted salamanders and wood frogs are so reliant on these pools they are considered “vernal-pool-indicator species.” On the flip side, a pool drying up also means there is a limited time for eggs to be laid and for juvenile frogs and salamanders to mature before “the well runs dry” so to speak. Seems like a good strategy to get to the pools as quick and early as possible.
In theory, most to all vernal-pool amphibians in an area will migrate the same night from their overwintering burrows to these temporary pools. This kind of strict schedule is, however, seldom a reality as differences in amounts of snow cover, in rain starting times, and in the distances individuals have to migrate can stretch a population’s migration length from a single night to a week or more. Some individuals go to impressive lengths to get to their vernal pools—spotted salamanders are known to travel up to 815 feet to get to a pool, and wood frogs have been documented migrating over 1500 feet! That’s more than some people move in a day and these amphibians are tiny!
And so every year in late March we keep an eye on the weather in hopes of predicting and observing a part of this mass amphibian migration. This year has been no different, and on the last few nights of March the conditions for amphibian migration were achieved—wet, warm and rainy! And even though there was more than a foot of snow blanketing my back yard and other places, I got in my truck, turned up the Iron Maiden music because energy is key on drives like this—and hit the roads for my first amphibian cruise at about 10:30pm. I had given the rains half an hour to soak the road but apparently it wasn’t enough time to melt much snow and I saw no migration on the roads at first. Wood frogs and spotted salamanders have no problem crossing snow, they just have to get out of the ground first!
One wood frog road crossing that I have watched the last few springs happens to face south and on this night the ground on both sides of the road was completely void of snow. To my pleasure, a handful of wood frogs greeted my headlights with a hop or two as I pulled into the “zone.” My goal was to snag a few—for educational purposes—and then “help” the others finish their crossing instead of being crushed by other cars. Catching frogs is an art form that often requires patience and stealth. But on a 40-degree night no art form is necessary as the frogs—being the coldblooded critters they are—were barely moving and barely awake. Simply walk up to ‘em and pick ‘em up—getting your hands wet first! These are good times.
The rest of the drive was quiet on the amphibian front, but the rain continued through that night and most of the next day, melting a huge chunk of the remaining snow. The roads did go dry over the course of a sunny afternoon, but fortunately the rains came back late and I found myself doing the amphibian cruise at 11pm. And what a difference a night can make! The snow was still patchy, but things had opened enough so that wood frogs and spotted salamanders were able to get their migrations going. I observed both species at several road-crossing locations, but the overall number of individuals felt low—giving the impression that there would be another night (or two!) of movement before things are over. Twist my arm and I’ll go back out! Hopefully with the family next time!
PHOTOS: Kirk Gentalen
St. George lost a valued friend this past March 25 with the sudden and unexpected passing of John A. Bly, 73, who for 35 years operated Turkey Cove Auto on land that had been a wood lot on property owned by John’s grandparents at the Turkey Cove end of Ridge Road in Martinsville. Although he had a degree in mechanical engineering from Northeastern University and for a time worked for a company that made diesel locomotives in southern California—along the way spending many happy free-time hours riding motorcycles—auto repair for John was not so much a vocation as a source of livelihood that enabled him to live the “good life” to which he dedicated himself soon after deciding to make St. George his permanent home in 1972.
Chris, John’s wife of 43 years (they first met while swimming at Atwood’s Quarry in 1974), says John often joked that he “retired” when he made the decision to settle on his grandparent’s land. It seemed a way of acknowledging that he understood himself at that moment to be leaving behind mainstream life. His bible was Helen and Scott Nearing’s influential book, Living the Good Life: How to Live Simply and Sanely in a Troubled World, which described a 19-year “back-to-the-land experiment” in simple living. By the time John had read their book the Nearings had settled in Maine at Harborside on the Cape Rosier peninsula overlooking Penobscot Bay. For a while John made weekly visits to lend a hand to—and learn from—the Nearings’ back-to-the-land enterprise. Like them, he became a committed vegetarian. He also developed a dream of building his own stone house as they had done. The Blys moved into that home in 2001.
While John and Chris spent their early years together raising and selling organic vegetables, harvesting edible seaweed, clamming and other activities, it was John’s self-taught experience repairing cars that eventually became the economic mainstay of the couple’s—and their growing family’s—life. In all, the Blys raised five children—Phoebe, Minda, Noah, Ivan and Laura.
With the help of son Noah, who began working with John when he was 13, Turkey Cove Auto kept hundreds and hundreds of St. George’s—and Monhegan’s—vehicles on the road over the years. But for John and for so many of his clients, just as important as providing a valuable automotive service, was the time spent catching up on new passions (in John’s case this involved such things as long-distance bicycle riding, learning to play the saxaphone, and ballroom dancing) and in thoughtful conversation after the bill was paid and before the freshly repaired car or truck was driven home.
A lifelong spiritual seeker, John was a man of reflection. Most recently, he had been thinking about “wabi-sabi living,” a concept he learned about at a men’s retreat in October at Tanglewood Camp in Lincolnville. “‘Wabi’” a handout from the retreat says, “describes someone who is content with little and who makes the most of whatever is at hand—always moving toward having less.” Sabi is about learning to accept the natural cycle of growth and decay.
It comes as no surprise these concepts resonated with John. They have everything to do with the sort of “good life” family, friends and neighbors know with certainty that John both embraced and achieved.
Haskell Point resident Nicholas von Hoffman, 88, died February 1 in Rockport. He was a well respected, if controversial, print journalist and media commentator who worked for the Washington Post for 10 years beginning in the late 1960s and thereafter contributed to publications including the New Republic, Esquire, Architectural Digest and the New York Observor. He commented on public affairs on “Byline,” a Cato Institute-sponsored radio show and battled with conservative columnist James J. Kilpatrick on “Point/Counterpoint” a segment of the the CBS television program “60 Minutes.” He also wrote plays and more than a dozen books, among them Citizen Cohn in 1988, a best-selling biography of Roy Cohn, Senator Joseph R. McCarthy’s chief counsel during the 1950s Red Scare.
Before becoming a reporter, Von Hoffman worked for community organizer Saul Alinsky in Chicago and went on to become a leader of the Woodlawn Organization which led civil rights efforts on Chicago’s South Side. He left in 1963 to join the Chicago Daily News as a reporter. He was among the first reporters to spend time in the hippie community of Haight-Ashbury in San Francisco, producing 16 stories about life in the district that ran on the front page of the San Francisco Chronicle and formed the basis of his 1968 book, We are the People Our Parents Warned Us Against.
Katharine Graham, former publisher of the Post, wrote in her autobiography that Hoffman “had a gifted voice that represented a certain segment of the population that needed to be heard. Almost alone among American journalists of the time, von Hoffman was telling us what was in the minds of the young who felt dispossessed and unrepresented by the so-called establishment press.”
Von Hoffman lived on Haskell point for 30 years. At first he travelled back and forth between Maine and New York, but for the last 20 years he made his full-time home in Tenants Harbor. He made many friends here and will be sorely missed. A memorial service will be held in mid-May. For more information call 372-8585.
Start in spring to identify, remove and replace invasive plants that are lurking around the edges of your property. At a talk on April 26 at the town office, experts will present methods for removing plants like himalayan balsam, japanese knotweed, purple loosestrife, and bittersweet vines. Replacing invasives with native plants can be a bonus to you as well as to the pollinators and others who share your Maine habitat. The event starts at 7 pm and refreshments will be provided. “Invasive plants: rip and replace” is sponsored by the Conservation Commission and the Friends of St. George as part of a year-long program on invasive plants.
On May 14, 2018 residents of St. George will be asked to vote on a $2.64 million rehabilitation and development project at the former St. George Marine property at 10 Cold Storage Road, in Port Clyde. The first phase of the project was completed in 2015 when the town purchased the property, which adjoins the existing town landing. The second phase has been to develop a construction plan to repair, improve and expand the property into a facility that has adequate infrastructure to adapt to and support a wide range of future commercial and recreational activities. The final phase will begin the gradual development of a plan to use the new facility once the voters approve a construction plan.
For more information contact Harbor Master Dave Schmanska or Town Manager Tim Polky at (207-372-6363).
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.
“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