The Wrack

The Wrack is the Wells Reserve blog, our collective logbook on the web.

A Golden Opportunity

Posted by | October 14, 2014

Wells Reserve at Laudholm has set a goal like no other organization in Maine.

“We are well underway in securing solar power to run our operation,” said Paul Dest, director of the Wells National Estuarine Research Reserve. “Our goal is to become 100 percent self-sufficient on solar power.”

For those who know the Wells Reserve at Laudholm, it is no surprise that it would chart such ambitious goals. It has a rich history of development and progress.

First settled for farming in 1643, the site has seen prosperous times amid periods when the farm was in disuse, disrepair and had an uncertain future. At one time, Laudholm Farm was the largest and most progressive saltwater farm in York County, maintaining its long-time place of prominence within the Town of Wells. Laudholm Farm milk, cream, butter, eggs, broilers and roasting chickens were sold to locals and shipped weekly to Boston.

Aerial view of Wells Reserve Laudholm campus with Maine Coastal Ecology Center photovoltaic installation visible in lower rightBut by 1978, the farm was derelict. Concerned about the fate of Laudholm Farm, local citizens, led by Wells resident Mort Mather, banded together to protect the historic landscape and structures. In 1982 they formed the nonprofit organization Laudholm Trust to establish the Wells Reserve and protect the property.

By 1986 they had rallied town, state and federal support, formed key partnerships and celebrated the dedication of the Wells National Estuarine Research Reserve with a mission of advancing science, education and conservation.

“If the Wells Reserve at Laudholm had an oil well and a refinery and a power plant on site, we could keep the lights on, fill up our heating oil tank and top off my Volkswagen every day for cheap. But we don’t,” said Nik Charov, president of Laudholm Trust, the nonprofit partner of the Wells National Estuarine Research Reserve in his online blog.

Says Charov, “That’s just one of the drawbacks of fossil fuels: the infrastructure needs are enormous. If fossil fuels were as vast, inexhaustible and reliable as the sun that rises daily over our heads, they’d be great.”

Charov explains that fossil fuels are really solar power. He notes that over hundreds of millions of years, plants used energy from the sun to take water and the carbon dioxide in the air to build themselves up. Ultimately, those plants died, were buried and got compressed into oil and coal and gas, storing that solar energy underground.

“Three hundred years ago, we humans started digging up and burning those compressed plants at incredible rates, inadvertently releasing those millions of years of stored sunshine back into the atmosphere in a considerably shorter time than they took to form,” said Charov.

While naysayers may say that solar power is too expensive and unreliable, Paul Dest says that Laudholm’s efforts prove otherwise.

“We believe in it,” said Dest “We knew it was an aggressive goal to reach 100 percent solar power, so we jumped in and started the effort about three years ago.”

For Dest, the first step was to examine energy use and resource consumption at the complex.

“Conservation is essential,” said Dest. “We assessed our current energy use and looked at ways to reduce consumption and increase efficiencies.”

After gathering a baseline of energy use, Dest considered the options of wind, geothermal or solar for their energy needs.

“It was clear that solar was the best option,” said Dest, noting that solar panel equipment costs have come down and the technology has improved drastically in the past five years.

An electrician wires photovoltaic invertersWith solar panels installed in March and June of 2013, the Wells Reserve at Laudholm now secures about 65 percent of its electrical energy needs entirely from solar power. After it installs two more solar panel arrays this year, the facility expects to reach its goal of being 100 percent dependent on solar power for its electricity -- well ahead of the original timeline.

Dest is quick to point out that being solar powered does not mean pulling the plug on other energy sources. The Wells Reserve is still tied to the region’s electrical grid and will use energy from the grid on cloudy days or at night and “export” solar energy to the grid when it has a surplus.

The Wells Reserve expects to be the first non-profit to become 100 percent solar powered.

“It’s not only the smart and liberating thing to do, it’s the right thing to do,” adds Charov.

According to Charov, the worldwide leader in solar power, Germany, now generates more than 50 percent of its electrical demand from the sun, with a goal of 100 percent by 2050.

“What’s especially exciting about this is that the lower 48 United States, including Maine, are all sunnier than Germany,” said Charov. “If they can do it, we can too.”

Ceremonial 'powering upDest said that solar power does come with a price tag.

“We’ve had to work hard to raise monies for our efforts,” said Dest. “We have been fortunate to have local and national support.”

To date, the Wells Reserve and Laudholm Trust have received two grants to launch the final phase of their project – $86,898 from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and $10,000 from the Davis Conservation Foundation. Contributions from supportive individuals have also started to come in.

“We are poised to install another set of photovoltaic panels on the Alheim property while making energy efficiency improvements in the Visitor Center,” said Dest. “If we can raise just $30,000 more in donations by December 31, our dual 'conserve and convert' effort will allow us to reach our 100 percent solar goal.”

For more information on the solar powered efforts at the Wells Reserve at Laudholm, visit the complex at 342 Laudholm Farm Road in Wells or go to www.wellsreserve.org.

Cover from Tourist News for October 2, 2014, this issue containing this article

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