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Pine Tree Primer: The math of Janet Mills’ $63k Blaine House solar panel deal

AUGUSTA – Governor Janet Mills held a celebration this week to unveil the new Blaine House solar panel installation she championed as she took office in January. According to a report from Maine Public and the official statement from Governor Janet Mils the cost of the installation is about $63,000 and the annual savings are unlikely to recoup the cost of the project.

To make sense of what this project will do, Maine Examiner has broken down the numbers for you:

The project installed 61 solar panels at the Blaine House at a cost of about $63,000 according to Governor Janet Mills. The project was put out to bid through the State of Maine’s RFP process through the Department of Administrative and Financial Services. (RFP: 201901005 “Photovoltaic (PV) Solar Installation at Blaine House” in the state RFP Archives)

According to Maine Public (click to read):

“Mills’s office says the project costs $63,000 and will reduce the mansion’s electricity bill – roughly $11,000 last year – by about 25 percent in the first year.”

But Governor Janet Mills’ official statement says the savings will only be about $1,578 in the first year.

“The solar project, installed by the Maine-based company ReVision Energy, is estimated to serve 25 percent of the Blaine House’s electricity needs and save $1,578 in electricity costs within the first year,” says the statement from Governor Mills.

Calculating the savings according to the statement Governor Mills provided Maine Public, the yearly savings on the $63,000 expenditure is about $2,750 versus the $1,578 in the first year Mills claimed in her official statement.

At the higher savings estimate of $2,750 per year, it will take about 23 years for the savings to cover the cost of the solar installation.

At the lower savings estimate in Mills’ official statement, it would take about 40 years for the savings to cover the cost of the solar installation.

The official RFP entry in the state database says the next anticipated RFP release for this project is 2038. That timeline is consistent with published estimates from multiple sources that photo voltaic panels typically have a useful life span of about 20 years, losing about 1% efficiency per year.

Based on the cost of the project, estimated savings and timeline for replacement, it appears that the solar panels will be replaced well before they pay for themselves or provide any savings to Maine taxpayers.

Using the more aggressive savings estimate Governor Mills provided to Maine Public, the replacement in 2038 will come five years before the 2043 break-even point.

Using the less aggressive savings estimate provided by Governor Mills in her official statement, the replacement in 2038 will come twenty-one years before the 2059 break-even point.

Setting aside the financials, Governor Mills focused on the reduction in carbon emissions the solar panels represent. Mills said in her official statement that the solar panels will “offset roughly 28,000 pounds of carbon emissions, the equivalent to 2.3 million smartphone charges a year or 43 barrels of oil.”

Mills has also empaneled a “climate council” with the goal of making Maine carbon neutral and fighting “climate change” as well as installing electric vehicle charging stations across Maine.

A Maine Examiner report in October showed that the Mills administration had yet to complete a so-called “carbon budget” to determine where Maine stand on carbon emissions, despite official data suggesting the state may have become carbon neutral during the LePage administration.

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