Wells National Estuarine Research Reserve - Wells, Maine

Visitors to Wells Reserve’s Ecology Center at historic Laudholm Farm are now greeted by an example of 21st century technology: a rooftop full of 142 grid-tied solar electric panels that provide most of the facility’s electric needs.

With 2,250 acres of salt marsh, freshwater wetland, beach, dune, forest, and field under management, the Wells National Estuarine Research Reserve protects a vital part of Southern Maine’s ecosystem, as well as its history. The buildings at the Laudholm Farm campus (where the Reserve is headquartered) harken back to the region’s farming history – a tradition that dates back to the first European settlements almost 400 years ago, and Native American settlements before that. Wells Reserve is one of 28 National Estuarine Research Reserves across the country, and focuses its effort on research, education, and environmental stewardship.

Sustainable and ecologically-friendly practices have been core to construction and renovation projects since the Reserve’s inception. Efforts over the years include remodeling and adapting centuries-old buildings to new purposes, and use of sustainably-harvested, locally milled wood and efficient heating systems in the two new buildings (a research center and a 20-bed dormitory). As part of standard practice, the Reserve continuously examines ways to recycle materials and reduce their carbon output.

The addition of the solar electric array inagurates a “New era of energy consumption and generation for Wells Reserve,” according to Reserve Director Paul Dest. “In this multi-year, multi-phase era we will switch to alternative energy sources, reduce our annual carbon emissions, and improve the energy efficiency of our buildings and equipment. There is a monetary as well as an environmental benefit: These improvements will reduce our operating costs, allowing us to concentrate our funding on environmental research and education.”

Solar: Offering Energy Bill and Carbon Savings

It’s hard to separate environmental stewardship from energy in current times, when climate change threatens the world’s oceans with acidification, warming, and rising sea levels. The solar array is expected to produce 42,000 kilowatt-hours of clean, renewable energy each year, offsetting an estimated 54,000 pounds of carbon emissions from fossil fuel energy sources. In addition to the carbon reductions, the array is expected to save the Reserve $6,000 to $7,000 annually.

ReVision Energy’s installers wrapped up installation on the array just after the spring equinox, and to date the system has produced over 5MW of electricity. The Reserve has made data on the system available publicly at: http://www.sunnyportal.com/Templates/PublicPage.aspx?page=189b19e2-3e3b-4864-8e06-e8a223a93890 and plans to add a public kiosk on-site at the Ecology Center for visiting guests to see.

The Reserve is now finishing fundraising for an additional solar array at their Alheim Commons: http://www.wellsreserve.org/support/, and is planning a ribbon cutting event on May 18 during their “Spring Spiff Up” day.

Funding for the Reserve’s solar power system came from the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration, the Mattina R. Proctor Foundation, the Davis Conservation Foundation, and individual donors to Laudholm Trust.