Solar farms proposed for two central Maine towns
From The Portland Press Herald
January 7, 2017
By Colin Ellis
A Yarmouth-based energy company is proposing a pair of new solar projects – in Fairfield and Clinton – that could generate enough power for 6,000 out-of-state homes combined and create more than 200 jobs locally.
Ranger Solar, which also plans to bring a utility-scale solar farm to Farmington that could break ground in 2018 and eclipse the size of any solar installation now operating in Maine, expects the new projects in Fairfield and Clinton to generate 20 megawatts of power each, but the power will be sent to Connecticut. The photovoltaic systems “require little maintenance, are not highly visible, and do not produce pollution or require water,” according to a notice about the projects in a recent Mid Maine Chamber of Commerce newsletter.
It wasn’t immediately clear where exactly the Fairfield and Clinton projects are planned, but the chamber indicated they would be built on private land. Aaron Svedlow, vice of president of permitting for Ranger Solar, would not disclose specific locations during an interview Friday, saying only that the company has land controlled and would begin studies in the spring.
Svedlow said the utility-scale projects in Fairfield and Clinton still need to go through the permitting process with the Maine Department of Environmental Protection after they complete inspections, but the hope is to complete construction by 2019, if not earlier.
“Each of the projects individually is approximately a $20 million investment, and they’ll bring substantive tax revenue to the area and some temporary construction jobs,” Svedlow said.
Garvan Donegan, an economic development specialist for the Central Maine Growth Council, a public-private collaborative group based in Waterville, said projects like these are funded by federal tax credits, which were extended by Congress in 2015. He said because of that extension, construction of larger energy projects became more feasible, and there has been an upswing in these types of projects, specifically solar.
“It’s quite exciting,” Donegan said. “Maine has the most energy diversity in New England, and solar is included in that.”
While central Maine is experiencing somewhat of an influx in larger-scale solar projects, Donegan said the increase could be seen around the state, including larger cities such as Portland and South Portland, which are conducting feasibility studies. But he said central Maine does have some advantages, such as cheaper land than might be found in southern Maine.
Donegan also said central Maine towns often have large tracts of land near electrical substations, and these could make for a more feasible budget than in a more urban area.
“It really does come down to a case-by-case site evaluation analysis,” Donegan said.
Donegan said these type of projects typically bring in tax revenue and frequently use local employment. According to the notice in the Mid Maine Chamber of Commerce newsletter, Ranger is “committed to using local businesses to help clear land, build electrical systems, and provide other important services wherever possible during construction and operation.”
Fairfield Town Manager Michelle Flewelling said Ranger Solar approached the town last year about a potential project. The energy company then went to the town for a meeting in late November. She said environmental assessments probably would be done in the spring once the snow melts.
The chamber, of which Ranger Solar just became a member, said the central Maine solar projects would bring more than $20 million to the state in new economic development.
In Farmington, a 50- to 80-megawatt solar farm is planned on land owned by Sandy River Farms on Farmington Falls Road, according to farm owner Bussie York.
Ranger Solar is conducting environmental studies on undeveloped land along the road, Svedlow has said.
The projects in Fairfield and Clinton each would occupy about 100 acres, which Svedlow said was consistent with the size of projects Ranger Solar is moving forward with. He said there wasn’t an estimate on how many panels that would translate to, because that would depend on the size panels they use.
“We’re pretty excited about that. We think our chosen locations are well sited and generally not visible by the public,” Svedlow said.
Svedlow said Maine does not have good policies to allow the sale of renewable energy. They were selected through a competitive request-for-proposals process to send the power to Connecticut, he said.
Recently, the state’s largest solar utility project went online at the Madison Business Gateway. The nearly 5-megawatt solar farm consists of roughly 26,000 panels occupying 22 acres, and all the electricity produced there is purchased by Madison Electric Works.
Also, Colby College expects to begin installation of a 1.9-megawatt solar farm in Oakland with 5,505 solar panels on Washington Street. Bowdoin College has a 1.2-megawatt solar power complex in Brunswick. And Ranger 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 back in May.
Flewelling said the town of Fairfield has also been looking to construct a solar project on the closed landfill. She said this also could be a potential partnership with Ranger, since it already is interested in the larger project. She said the benefit of putting a smaller-scale solar project on a landfill is that the land is available but not able to be developed for anything else.
“There’s not a lot you can do with a closed landfill,” she said.
Svedlow said the smaller-scale project for Fairfield would be something Ranger would consider, and that there are a lot of opportunities for towns across Maine to do similar projects.
“Solar is really emerging as a low-cost, reliable, clean source of energy, and it’s really coming to the forefront,” he said.
Svedlow said Ranger is “very committed” to working with host communities and making sure they benefit from the projects, even if it’s not through purchasing power.
“We’ll continue to engage with the communities, abutters and other stakeholders as projects move forward,” he said.