Wendy Lessard decided she wanted to make the building for her massage therapy practice as sustainable as possible, and reached out to College of the Atlantic's Community Energy Center for help.Wendy Lessard decided she wanted to make the building for her massage therapy practice as sustainable as possible, and reached out to College of the Atlantic's Community Energy Center for help. Credit: Juneshoo Shin ’21Conservation and sustainability have long been important to Lessard, a former high school English teacher, and she knew that when she put up a new building for her massage therapy practice that she wanted to make it sustainable. When she heard about the College of the Atlantic Community Energy Center’s (CEC) Solar for Businesses and Farms program, she knew that it was something she needed to check out.

“As a non-science lay person, I didn’t know much about solar, and this was a significant investment so I definitely wanted to know more,” Lessard said.

Margherita Tommasini ’18 is one of the Community Energy Center's Summer Energy Fellows that helped Lessard fully understand the possibilities for cultivating environmental sustainability with her business.Margherita Tommasini ’18 is one of the Community Energy Center's Summer Energy Fellows that helped Lessard fully understand the possibilities for cultivating environmental sustainability with her business.Lessard worked with two Summer Energy Fellows from the CEC, COA students Margherita Tommasini ’18 and Jonathan Harmor ’18, to gain an understanding of her energy needs and the possibilities for cultivating environmental sustainability with her business. The students provided a comprehensive solar analysis of Lessard’s property free of cost, thanks to a grant offered by the Renewable Energy Development Assistance Program.

“We do our best to put together a report that has custom information and convey that information to the client in an easy way,” Tommasini said. “The analysis report contains things such as the payback time, return on investment, finding funding options and more.”

After the analysis, Lessard chose a regional company to install the solar panels. This part of the process took some negotiating, she said, but worked out very well in the end, taking just two days to do the installation.

“The biggest factor that I had to think about was price, and also how they worked with me,” she said.

Although Lessard is not making one hundred percent of all the energy she requires yet, she reports that over the year it will balance out since she will make a surplus in the summer.

College of the Atlantic students help install solar panels at <a href="/farms/beech-hill-farm/">Beech Hill Farm</a>. Through coursework, independent studies, workstudy jobs, and the Community Energy Center, students are involved in many local energy projects.College of the Atlantic students help install solar panels at Beech Hill Farm. Through coursework, independent studies, workstudy jobs, and the Community Energy Center, students are involved in many local energy projects.The total cost of the installation came to about $20,000, with $7,000 in federal income tax credits.

“Although this was a big investment and I had to take out a loan, this was still a great move,” Lessard said. The installation is expected to pay for itself within 10 years or less.

The CEC was launched in 2016 with the goals of strengthening energy education at College of the Atlantic while creating and supporting sustainability initiatives in communities across Maine and beyond. To these ends, the CEC fosters year-round student engagement with local renewable energy projects and offers continuity and support to a variety of energy projects.

COA Community Energy Center Program Manager <a href="/live/profiles/3429-andrea-russell">Andrea Russell</a> promotes a grassroots approach to energy independence in Downeast Maine.COA Community Energy Center Program Manager Andrea Russell promotes a grassroots approach to energy independence in Downeast Maine.The CEC Solar for Businesses and Farms initiative aims to helps entrepreneurs and growers reap the financial and social benefits of transitioning away from fossil fuels. Funded by a $65,000 grant from the United States Department of Agriculture Renewable Energy Development Assistance program, the project is providing thirty or more Hancock County farms and small businesses with solar energy assessments and in-depth information on funding mechanisms available for solar power installations. Students who work with the CEC are funded by the Thoreau Foundation via their support of COA’s Thoreau Environmental Leaders Initiative.

“This project highlights a community-oriented, interactive, grassroots approach to energy independence designed to help take Downeast Maine towards a sustainable future,” said CEC program manager Andrea Russell.

Lessard encourages others who are interested in solar to reach out to the CEC. The entire experience was both empowering and highly practical, she said.

“The CEC folks were lots of fun to work with. In fact, they gave me more information than I needed. They gave me confidence,” she said. “Come and see me for proof of how great solar can be!”


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