2017-08-04 / Front Page

Solar savings in store for Camp Ketcha

By Michael Kelley Staff Writer


The Spurwink Road side of Camp Ketcha’s equestrian barn will soon be adorned with a solar panel array. The solar panels will offset the cost of electricity for the barn and the camp’s other buildings and facilities, such as the outdoor pool. Aside from lighting camp buildings, the outdoor swimming pool is one of the major electricity drains at the camp. It takes $250 in electricity a month to run the pool from April to October. (Michael Kelley photos) The Spurwink Road side of Camp Ketcha’s equestrian barn will soon be adorned with a solar panel array. The solar panels will offset the cost of electricity for the barn and the camp’s other buildings and facilities, such as the outdoor pool. Aside from lighting camp buildings, the outdoor swimming pool is one of the major electricity drains at the camp. It takes $250 in electricity a month to run the pool from April to October. (Michael Kelley photos) The roof of the barn building at Camp Ketcha, used for the camp’s equestrian program, will look a little different soon, thanks to a crowdfunding effort by a group of students from the University of New England and associate professor Noah Perlut.

The solar panels, that will provide 15kw of power, will be installed by ReVision Energy in early November and are expected to save the camp 15 percent on electricity, including 46 percent in the first year.

“This is something that will be on our roof for the next 20 years, so it is important we get a reputable company and ReVision has also been a supporter of our in the past,” Camp Ketcha Executive Director Tom Doherty said.

Doherty said although it will be placed on the barn, the energy generated can be used to offset costs in the buildings on the property, as well as the Portland Gear Hub building in Portland.

Although renewable energy had been something that was brought up at the camp before, it was the UNE students, led by senior Hanna Sihler to bring the idea to the camp. Sihler, who is majoring in oceanography with a minor in biophysics and applied mathematics, was introduced to Camp Ketcha by one of her soccer teammates

“Looking into it and seeing how the kids are impacted and in turn the community is impacted and hearing such amazing things about this place, I wanted to do something to help them,” she said.


Danielle Dicks, Camp Ketcha equestrian instructor, works with a group of 6- to 8-year-olds during summer camp last week. This fall a solar power array will be placed atop the equestrian program’s barn through a partnership with Camp Ketcha, students from the University of New England and REvolv. (Michael Kelley photo) Danielle Dicks, Camp Ketcha equestrian instructor, works with a group of 6- to 8-year-olds during summer camp last week. This fall a solar power array will be placed atop the equestrian program’s barn through a partnership with Camp Ketcha, students from the University of New England and REvolv. (Michael Kelley photo) The hope, she said, is to help the camp save money in electricity costs, which would allow it to put that money back into camp offerings.

“This was a way for me to connect with the community because I am not from here and make a big difference with renewable energy and get other the shift in that way, said Sihler, who, as a resident of “eco-friendly” Killington, Vermont was introduced to renewable energy at a young age.

Getting the solar panels on Camp Ketcha stem from a conference Perlut went to two years ago.

In November 2014, Perlut was a recipient of an Audubon Toyota TogetherGreen grant to try to reduce the decline of the bobolink population in Vermont. The bobolink is a small blackbird native to the northern United States. While at a conference with other TogetherGreen award winters, Perlut met Andreas Karelas, founder of RE-Volv, a nonprofit he started to help communities install alternative energy projects.

“I was impressed with him and the model he had created,” Perlut said. “The model is you crowdfund money to install solar panels at non-profits.”

The nonprofit pays nothing upfront, but over time pays RE-volv back through a lease. According to the RE-volv website participating non-profits pay “less money than they would have paid their local utility for electricity, because RE-volv guarantees savings of around 15 percent each month.” The money RE-volv receives is then reinvested in other solar projects across the country. To help in the effort, RE-volv offers college students an opportunity to take part in a Solar Ambassador program to help non-profits in their area adopt renewable energy.

“I came back (from the conference) and thought this would be really interesting for us to do,” Perlut said. “I am personally really interested in alternative energy.”

UNE is one of five universities across the country that participated in the program the past school year. The other schools included Coastal Carolina College, Swarthmore College, University of Connecticut, University of Dayton, University of Wisconsin-Madison, University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee.

The UNE group began the crowdfunding effort in February and reached the $35,000 goal in April. The group was helped by large donations from ReVision Energy ($2,000) and Horizon Foundation ($10,000)

Perlut said the mission of Camp Ketcha, which is to “provide kids of all ages with deep connections to the land, vibrant community and the confidence to create their sense of place in the world” fit in well with the RE-volv initiative.

“We met and came up with a list of eight to 10 nonprofits and talked about their missions and how this project would fit in,” Perlut said.

“It fits our mission so well and showcases good stewardship for the kids,” Doherty said. “We spray for ticks with organic spray the kids can play in and horses can eat. We dedicated 20 acres to rabbit habitat to save the New England cottontail. We promote people being active in the outdoors. The solar things was a good next step for us.”

Doherty said aside from offsetting electricity costs, Doherty said the panels also provide an excellent learning opportunity for the hundreds of children that come to the camp every year, especially those in the camp’s farm and environmental education program.

“Having these solar panels for that is tremendous,” Doherty said.

Doherty said he has talked about long-term environmental sustainability with members of the Camp Ketcha board of directors in the past and it wasn’t a difficult for former board president Katherine Joyce, an environmental attorney who has handed over the presidency role to Elizabeth Lanoe, to sell the idea to her fellow board members.

Sihler said a ribbon cutting will be scheduled this fall once the array gets installed. This fall Sihler will be stepping away from leading the Solar Ambassadors, passing the baton to Emily Murad. Perlut said this fall the group will begin another solar energy project and is leaning toward doing one at the Community Bike Center in Biddeford.

Staff Writer Michael Kelley can be reached at news@scarboroughleader.com.

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