Solar Industry News

North Country Rivers Uses Sun to Power Business in Rural Maine

Maine's rugged north woods has been a fixture of our economy for hundreds of years, from the early days of logging and trapping, to the rise and fall of paper making and now, the thriving outdoor recreation industry.

It only makes sense the tourism industry, which brings people to Maine to enjoy the rich quality of our environment, would whole-heartedly embrace renewable energy, which protects said environment. Even better, is when going "green" saves financial "green."

You'll find the marriage of these qualities now at North Country Rivers , premiere whitewater rafting and outdoor adventures company located in Bingham, Maine. North Country recently completed a four-year transition to near net-zero, which started in 2011 with an energy audit and culminated this year with 155 solar electric panels (40kw), which are modeled to produce over 45,000 kilowatt-hours of clean electricity annually.

Clean Electricity = Free Electricity = Lower Operating Costs

Rachel Ohm of the Morning Sentinel, profiled North Country Rivers in Solar panels help add jobs, cut costs at Bingham's North Country Rivers .

Jim Murton, North Country's owner, said that economics were as much a factor as environmental reasons in his desire to go solar. "We really wanted to be open 12 months a year and have a payroll 12 months a year for our key employees," he said. "We really had to look at controlling energy costs if we wanted to stay open in the winter. This was really a key driving force in allowing us to go year-round and be a four-season outfitter."

One thing that Mainers of all political stripes can agree on is that high and volatile energy prices are not good for anyone (except the power companies). Thankfully, solar offers great protection against these energy spikes. With a combination of solar hot water (heating shower facilities and a commercial kitchen), wood pellet boiler (sourced locally to provide space heating for the main building), and solar electricity (estimated at 75% of NCR's use), the facility has eliminated nearly all fossil fuel needs.

NCR consumes no oil and uses only a small amount of propane for backup water heating in the kitchen and for heating some cabins. The next stage of implementation is to replace propane heating in cabins with air source heat pumps, powered by their solar array, which will complete the elimination of fossil fuels used for heating.

Environmental Stewardship

Murton also expects the solar energy upgrades at North Country Rivers to help differentiate his company in the competitive outdoor recreation industry. The solar panels will be featured prominently on their website, and will be highly visible to people visiting and enjoying the outdoors with NCR.

"As an outdoor recreation company we are sensitive to the impact our business has on the environment, and we find that our customers care about that," Jim adds, "Customers from solar-friendly states like Massachusetts and New York are very used to seeing solar on homes and businesses, and prefer to patronize businesses that aren't just talking the talk, but are walking the walk as well."

North Country Rivers's solar investments were supported by USDA REAP Grants (25% grant for all solar projects, wood pellet, conservation, and heat pumps). They were also eligible for Efficiency Grants and the Alternative Energy Rebate through Efficiency Maine (no longer available) and all told received four such grants. As a business, there are also federal tax incentives such as an Investment Tax Credit (ITC) and MACRS depreciation.

Contact us if you'd like to learn more about grants and incentives available for a business to go solar. While Maine currently has very limited state support, there remain a number of programs on the federal level that make the economics of converting to solar quite compelling for a business.

And if you're in Bingham this summer, you might see us on the river! ReVision Energy will be hosting our annual company rafting trip at North Country Rivers in August. The rafting trip is a bit of a legendary company event and was the genesis of our viral (within the industry) music video, " The Cover of the Solar Pro ."