A new $2.5 million solar array at Brunswick Landing will produce 1.5 megawatts
by Chris Chase, Staff Writer
Coastal Journal news story
WOOLWICH — During the darkest days of the year, both Brunswick Landing and the Town of Woolwich just completed projects to harvest energy from the sun.
A $2.5 million solar array project, constructed by ReVision Energy, had a ribbon cutting on Jan. 9 at Brunswick Landing. With its completion, the solar array – to-date, the largest in the state, containing over 4,500 photovoltaic panels – is providing power to over 100 businesses at the former naval air base.
In addition to the Brunswick Landing project, a smaller project at the former Woolwich landfill on Middle Road has also powered up, generating electricity for the town office and other municipal buildings.
The large array at Brunswick Landing is part of an overall goal to create a “microgrid” at the former base.
“Our goal is having 100 percent of our power needs on campus satisfied by onsite renewable resources,” said Steve Levesque, executive director of Midcoast Regional Redevelopment Authority. The organization’s goal is to rehabilitate the former Navy property and attract new businesses and jobs to the area, a goal they’ve been achieving at a rapid pace.
Already at the Landing is an anaerobic digester biogas power plant. Instead of throwing organic material into a landfill, it goes into large “digestion tanks” that break the material down while producing methane gas the digester burns to produce 1 megawatt of power.
Coupled with the solar project, the power needs of Brunswick Landing are nearly satisfied by onsite sources, bringing MRRA closer to that microgrid goal.
“We’ll be producing about 75 percent of our power needs,” said Levesque.
A microgrid, in addition to providing lower cost, green energy, would also be a more robust and resilient power supply. MRRA already sources every bit of its energy from green energy providers through power purchase agreements. But instead of depending on transmission lines over many miles, the grid at Brunswick Landing would be locally based and managed, and have a greater capacity for changes in demand.
Both the MRRA and Woolwich projects are utilizing power purchase agreements, which allow the two entities to take advantage of tax benefits. Normally, since MRRA is a nonprofit and Woolwich is a municipality, taxes aren’t an issue.
But to use the subsidy, investors – or ReVision itself – owns the array for a period of time, allowing organizations to take advantage of the tax savings and passing those on.
Alison Hepler, a member of Woolwich Select Board, said there’s been efforts in the town to create some sort of solar power for a while.
“We thought about putting them on one of the municipal buildings, and then we thought about the top of the closed landfill,” she said.
Initially, the town thought it would be unable to install solar panels due to strict requirements about building on top of old landfill sites. However, after a second look, the entrance to the property was found to be suitable.
After that, the town held public hearings about the idea, and ultimately residents voted in favor of it.
“I think the panels were up before Christmas,” said Hepler. “We just got an email saying CMP hooked them up.”
A smaller solar array on Woolwich’s old landfill will supply the town’s buildings with power. Courtesy photo
Both projects were taken on by ReVision Energy. The new array in Brunswick is the largest the company has ever completed, according to Fortunat Mueller, a co-founder of ReVision.
“Our goal was to get it completed before the end of the year, and we will accomplish that goal,” said Mueller. “We had some material delays at the beginning of the project, but our guys hustled and they made up the time.”
Both MRRA and Woolwich will have the option to purchase the solar panels after six or seven years.
While the subsidies allowing for cheaper power did help, they’re just a part of the picture, said Mueller. In Maine especially, subsidies don’t provide a lot of motivation, as the state hasn’t had any form of solar subsidy for nearly a decade.
“In Maine, in particular, where we have had a total lack of leadership on energy policy in general, the solar industry has grown dramatically in general in spite of policy, not because of policy,” said Mueller.
The cost of constructing a solar project, he said, has come down so far that building a solar array is attractive even if no subsidy is available.
“The cost has come down so far that we can generate solar at Brunswick Landing for less than it cost them to buy it from Central Maine Power. There’s no need for a subsidy in that case, and that’s increasingly true for projects of all sizes,” he said.
The panels have a warranty of 25 years, and lifespan that’s likely longer than that.
“The story is pretty clearly that solar is here to stay, it’s too good of an idea to put back in the bottle,” Mueller said.