This report provides a detailed feasibility analysis of installing a photovoltaic solar array at Whiting Farm in Auburn, Maine. Whiting Farm is a valued subsidiary of John F. Murphy Homes’ (JFM), a non-profit located in the Lewiston and Auburn community. The development of this array seeks to offset the entirety or a large portion of JFM’s electricity usage. JFM has demonstrated a commitment to the local Maine community by providing services to individuals with developmental and intellectual disabilities. With the informed development of a solar array, Whiting Farm has the potential to convert solar energy into clean renewable power, reducing JFM’s annual energy expenditure and advancing the organization’s sustainability initiatives. This reduction in JFM’s energy expenditures will direct an increased portion of funds towards valuable programing. In addition to the concrete savings realized by JFM, there are numerous non-monetary advantages to solar that have the potential to benefit the greater Lewiston and Auburn community. Future changes at the state and local level coupled with the continuation of current solar incentives would make the development of solar a viable option at Whiting Farm. There are a number of funding schemes applicable to solar projects; however, given JFM’s tax status and specified preferences, an upfront payment or a Power Purchase Agreement (PPA) would be most applicable.
A number of methodological approaches have contributed to our feasibility study. Our preliminary research involved a detailed review of the electricity usage at each of JFM’s 54 residential properties as well as a review of the restrictions and opportunities of solar development in Maine. Informed by this foundational analysis, we conducted an initial site evaluation, which was later augmented by the work of solar consultants with extensive experience in Maine’s renewable energy markets. In addition to their siting expertise, these experts corroborated our initial research into the viability of an upfront payment or a PPA. In our feasibility analysis, we have developed three scenarios including a 3%, 51% and 100% offset of JFM’s current energy usage. These specified project scales are informed by the social, political and economic factors influencing solar development in Maine. The latter two scenarios are most applicable to JFM’s energy needs but require changes to local and state legislation.
Through these scenarios, we have determined that the development of a solar array at Whiting Farm requires substantive changes to local zoning restrictions and Maine’s solar legislation. Only after these changes would solar represent a viable option for offsetting JFM’s electrical expenditure, advancing their sustainability initiatives, and expanding their provision of educational opportunities. Despite the complex confluence of factors and variability between projects, JFM will benefit most from offsetting 100% of their current energy usage. This can be accomplished by either an upfront payment of $1,804,000 or through a PPA. The former, despite the large capital investment required, enables JFM to realize significant cash flows of $112,067 dollars in year 1. Comparatively, a PPA with a third party investor requires no upfront costs from JFM and provides a competitive electricity rate in comparison to Central Maine Power (CMP). Depending on the contract terms, JFM will either have the opportunity to purchase the array in year 6 at a discounted rate, roughly 60% of the initial cost ($1,082,400), or continue to purchase energy at a competitive rate for the entirety of their contract (25-35 years). It is essential that JFM’s board consider the aforementioned difficulties of solar development and the tradeoffs associated with each scenario. Considering the details of this report, the most prudent course of action is to strategically defer project development until substantive local and legislative changes demonstrate Maine’s commitment to renewable energy.
Johnstone, Clavin; Micklewhite, Niamh; and Riggs, Bria, "Solar Feasibility Report for Whiting Farm in Auburn, ME" (2018). Community Engaged Research Reports. 48.