For those who braved mud or ice to stroll the slopes at Round Top Farm this winter, they may have spotted something shiny and new in the southwest field behind Darrows Barn.
As of Jan. 3, contractors with ReVision Energy completely installed eight rows of solar panels on a one-acre parcel at the farm and are in the process of finishing the wiring on the array. ReVision broke ground on the project in the fall.
Hannah McGhee, Coastal Rivers outreach and communications manager, said the location for the panels was selected for the minimal impact it would have on the visual landscape at Round Top for the public and abutters.
“We chose (the location) with great care. Just based on the topography there, the visual impact is much less there because… it’s kind of tucked in behind the hill,” McGhee said.
The installation represents a significant step in meeting the nonprofit’s goal of carbon neutrality by 2025, as set out in its five-year strategic plan. However, the solar panels have been part of Coastal Rivers’ vision since before the plan was established.
When Coastal Rivers renovated the Denny Conservation and Education Center at Round Top Farm in 2019, it installed electric heat pumps in anticipation of a renewable option for generating electricity.
According to Coastal Rivers, the system will generate approximately 300,000 kWh in its first year. Just 25% of that power will provide power for all of the organization’s facilities, including the education center and Darrows Barn at Round Top Farm and the Nature Center at Salt Bay Farm. Kieve Wavus Education will use the other 75% of the power.
There was no upfront cost to either organization for the development of the panels. Instead, ReVision will sell the installation to a third-party investor, and Coastal Rivers and KWE will purchase set amounts of electricity from them for at least five years through a Power Purchase Agreement.
Once the agreement expires, Coastal Rivers and KWE will have the opportunity to purchase the system for much less than the initial price.
Coastal Rivers’ future efforts in pursuit of a carbon neutral operation will include electric vehicle charging stations at Round Top Farm, electric maintenance equipment and vehicles, and potentially purchasing carbon offsets.
Coastal Rivers’ pursuit of net carbon neutrality falls under the broad goal of confronting climate change in its strategic plan, which also includes strategic land conservation, education, advocacy, and stewardship.
Other, even more ambitious goals in the strategic plan include conserving at least one large undeveloped block of natural land on the Pemaquid peninsula greater than 2,000 acres, akin to the nonprofit’s River Link initiative to preserve several thousand contiguous acres on the Boothbay peninsula.
Additionally, the nonprofit aims to add more than a mile to its wheelchair accessible path at Round Top Farm, creating a link between the farm, Whaleback Shell Midden, and Salt Bay Farm on Belvedere Road that will run under the Route 1 bridge over the Damariscotta River.
McGhee said that the organization will begin fundraising for the trail project sometime in 2022.
For more information about Coastal Rivers Conservation Trust, its events and programs, and its fundraising initiatives, go to coastalrivers.org.