The proposed $30 million project that will keep the lights on in some 7,000 homes is expected to go on line in 2019.
by Colin Ellis, Staff Writer
Central Maine newspapers news story
FAIRFIELD — Plans for what could become the largest solar farm in the state are progressing, as the group developing the array plans to submit environmental permitting applications in the fall.
The proposed 20-megawatt array would be on 120 acres of privately owned land on U.S. Route 201, about a mile south of the Sappi plant in Skowhegan, according to Liz Payton, project manager for development for NextEra Energy Resources, the company developing the array.
The project was originally proposed by Ranger Solar, but those assets were acquired by the Florida-based NextEra Energy. Payton said the company has 240 acres of land to work with, but were able to design the project to occupy less space. The land is currently an active farm and will remain so.
“We’re hoping to be operational by the end of 2019,” Payton said.
The array would provide energy for about 7,000 homes, with the state of Connecticut purchasing the power, Aaron Svedlow, project director for solar development, said. An estimated $30 million project, it will be built, owned and operated by subsidiaries of NextEra which is also working on a project of similar size in Clinton.
The Fairfield project will create about 85 construction jobs, and there will be some full-time maintenance jobs once the site is operational. The site is over a Central Maine Power transmission line, which Payton said they will need to test to ensure it has the capacity for 20 megawatts.
The array will have no impact on nearby wetlands and is hardly visible because of its location, Svedlow said, and the Maine Department of Environmental Protection and the Fairfield Planning Board need to approve the project.
Payton pointed out the local benefits with projects like these, including new property tax benefits, job creation and opportunities for education.
“It’s a really exciting time for solar in Maine,” she said.
Jeremy Payne, the executive director of the Maine Renewable Energy Association, said he works with companies like NextEra in outreach and education efforts, since communities usually have questions once large-scale projects are announced. He said projects like the Fairfield one are good demonstrations of how successful large-scale grid projects like these can be.
“It’s continuing to demonstrate that solar is great for Maine,” Payne said.
NextEra is one of the largest generators of solar energy in the country. The company owns the power plant on Cousins Island, and also develops other forms of renewable energy sources. The company is the largest owner and operator of wind generating facilities in the country, has gas-fired facilities and works with nuclear energy.
The Fairfield announcement comes a few weeks after Waterville announced its intention to facilitate a large-scale solar project of its own on its capped landfill. Gizos Energy, a Falmouth-based energy company, is proposing a 20-megawatt project on the landfill that would likely be the largest such project on a closed landfill in the state and would cost the developer between $25 million and $30 million. The partnership also includes a smaller project on a different part of Webb Road also owned by the city.
Should these projects go forward, Fairfield and Waterville would join a crowded field of large-scale solar projects in central Maine.
Earlier this summer, it was announced that part of what will be the state’s largest array, a 41,000-panel solar project in Pittsfield, would go online by the end of 2017. Environmental regulators approved the $24.2 million project in June, and the Maine Public Utilities Commission allowed Cianbro to enter into a long-term partnership with Central Maine Power Co. Cianbro’s 57-acre solar farm will be off U.S. Route 2 and will generate 9.9 megawatts. CMP will pay 8.45 cents per kilowatt-hour for that electricity over a 20-year contract. It is expected to be fully operational by the fall.
Once fully operational, the Pittsfield array will surpass the size of the 26,000-panel farm at the Madison Business Gateway, which occupies about 22 acres and generates about 5 megawatts.
Meanwhile Colby College, in Waterville, expects to have a 5,300-panel, 1.8-megawatt photovoltaic energy project ready for the fall.
Thomas College in Waterville partnered with ReVision Energy in 2012 to install 700 solar panels on the roof of the Alfond Athletic Center and entered into a power purchasing agreement with ReVision, buying the electricity produced from the array on campus and then purchasing the system from ReVision at a reduced rate.
Nearby Unity College also partnered with ReVision, signing a power purchasing agreement to place a 144-panel solar array on the roofs of the Quimby Library and the Thomashow Learning Laboratory.
Bowdoin College has a 1.2-megawatt solar power complex in Brunswick.
A Yarmouth company continues to move ahead with plans to build a 50-megawatt solar farm at the Sanford municipal airport. The Sanford City Council approved the lease in May 2016.
The Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association launched its new array at the Common Ground Education Center on Crosby Brook Road in the spring, where more than 300 panels capable of producing 102 kilowatts are spread out over five barn roofs. The array is owned by ReVision Energy, and MOFGA has entered a power purchasing agreement to buy power from ReVision at a fixed cost. Though the agreement is for 30 years, the organization will have the option to purchase the array outright from ReVision after seven years.
The Quaker meeting at the Vassalboro Friends Meeting House on Stanley Hill Road has invested $40,000 to become more energy-efficient, including solar panels and heat pumps.