SaviLinx’s headquarters is on the former Naval Air Station in Brunswick, Maine. We recently caught up with Steve Levesque, Executive Director of the Midcoast Regional Redevelopment Authority. MRRA has been responsible for redeveloping the Naval Air Station to what is now called Brunswick Landing, a thriving office park and corporate jet facility. One of his major initiatives has been to convert the entire Landing to green energy.
Why is green energy important to the redevelopment of Brunswick Landing?
When we developed our Reuse Master Plan 12 year ago, we wanted to do something different. We own the electric grid within the confines of the former base, so we had an opportunity to develop a test bed, if you will. Brunswick is a very green community and a lot of the public wanted us to focus on alternative energy and alternative energy development. We parlayed that into a Renewable Energy Center where our goal is to be completely net zero and generate 100% of our energy on campus by renewable energy sources. With our new solar farm, we’re about 75% of the way there.
That’s impressive. How long has it taken you to get there?
About six years. What we don’t generate on campus, we buy outside and transport it in, and we’re buying wind energy. But that’s just part of our vision: we also are building a living laboratory for the application of new technologies around energy. That includes generation, storage, distribution, and management, including automated lights and the type of lighting we have in buildings. It all fits in to our overall sustainability plan for an environmentally conscious campus.
How do all of the pieces fit together? How much power does Brunswick Landing need?
Right now, we’re at about 3-3.5 MW per year. We have one of the three anaerobic digesters in the state. It takes sewage sludge and food waste from throughout the region and puts it through a process where essentially bugs eat it and turn it into methane gas. The methane gas then runs a turbine, which generates about 2 MW of electricity. The solar farm generates about 1-1.5 MW. So, we meet about 75% of our needs today. Of course, we’re going to grow our demand on campus, so our needs will grow as we get more business activity on the property.
Maine experienced massive power outages last Fall during a huge windstorm. Because this is a microgrid, is Brunswick Landing protected? How does that work?
Our long-term goal is to be able to develop a secure microgrid. Right now, if there’s a big outage off campus, we have to shut down. We don’t want to backfeed the system and electrocute someone who’s trying to work on the system. We’re still connected to the overall grid because we have to bring power in. Our goal is to be able to be 100% independent so we can still operate even if the outside has a problem with a transmission system. Currently, SaviLinx can operate 24/7 because is has generators.
Are all of the companies on the campus using the same percentage of green power?
Yes. Brunswick Landing is designated as an EPA Green Partner, and SaviLinx is a 100% Green Energy Customer. Every piece of energy that SaviLinx buys is green and renewable.
A lot of people look at green energy and say, “It’d be nice to do, but the costs are so high.” What is the green energy cost compared with traditional sources?
A big part of the cost is getting it to the property. Our utility charges 4.5-5 cents a kilowatt hour just to get power to the property line. If we’re buying it at 6-7 cents per kilowatt hour, then we have to add on another 5 cents. So it costs about 11-12 cents per kilowatt hour; when we add in our costs, our customers pay right around 13.5 cents per kilowatt hour. Currently, residential customers in Maine pay about 17 cents a kilowatt hour. Our power purchase agreements with the solar and anaerobic digester are in the range of 9-10 cents, all in. When we get fully up and running, we’ll probably be 1-2 cents per kilowatt hour below the market.
In addition to lower costs, why else is this important?
Renewable power is part of our vision not only to be able to offer it to the business community, but because it’s a good thing to do. This redevelopment project is about doing something totally different. It’s not your typical business park. Because we own and can control the grid, we are in a perfect opportunity to try to affect environmental sustainability. We’ve attracted two energy developers and we’re talking with several others. It is exciting where we’ll go in the future. We’re looking at storage, new energy technologies that haven’t been applied yet like hydrogen fuel cells, and want to create a living laboratory for the application of renewable energy.