CARIBOU, Maine — With massive swaths of open land and rural communities struggling to fulfill elevated electrical prices, builders see Aroostook County as a main vacation spot for photo voltaic panel websites.
Versant Energy is learning 60 proposed photo voltaic tasks for potential impression to its energy grid space, which incorporates Aroostook and elements of northern Penobscot and Washington counties.
These arrays are popping up at a time when legislators and residents throughout Maine are realizing their potential impression on the ability grid and questioning simply how a lot electrical financial savings they’ll produce.
There are practically 8,000 photo voltaic installations all through Maine, with the bulk on residential rooftops. These installations produce 420 megawatts of energy, in keeping with statewide information.
Though Aroostook solely has 1 p.c of them and produces simply 8.75 megawatts of energy, municipalities are shortly embracing photo voltaic arrays as potential price savers for industrial companies and residents.
Aroostook’s solar energy is fed into the New Brunswick Energy Grid by Versant Maine Public District, quite than to the New England Energy Grid. Maine Public District within the north and Bangor Hydro District within the south, which comprise Versant Energy in Maine, usually are not linked, so the ability generated in Aroostook can’t go to Bangor, though latest laws would make it attainable to attach the 2 areas.
Aroostook city officers, who say they’ve had robust relationships with photo voltaic corporations, are impressed with their dedication to being good stewards of the land.
Till this 12 months, Caribou solely had photo voltaic arrays on personal property, together with a 25-acre set up the Caribou Utilities District owns and maintains, and smaller arrays at an area farm and a senior condo complicated.
Now town is house to a 20-acre photo voltaic farm that gives power credit to seven industrial subscribers in and round Caribou and is the primary that Versant Energy assisted in creating. Three different corporations — one worldwide and two primarily based in the US — are near establishing photo voltaic arrays of varied sizes all through Caribou, a metropolis of a bit greater than 80 miles in size.
Caribou Planning Board just lately permitted a six-unit photo voltaic backyard that can sit on 3.5 acres of land close to Van Buren Highway. The .70 megawatts of panels will rotate with the solar and stand 35 toes excessive.
The St. Paul, Minnesota-based Novel Power Options, which is creating that backyard, is constructing a dozen different installations in Fort Fairfield, Westfield, Ashland, Limestone, Frenchville, Madawaska, Mapleton and Patten.
Novel’s photo voltaic installations vary from 5 to 40 acres, in keeping with gross sales supervisor Connor McCarthy. Given Aroostook’s open land, he mentioned the corporate sees the potential to develop round 40 extra tasks within the subsequent three years.
Based by sixth-generation cattle farmers, Novel just lately branched out into Maine resulting from its curiosity in working with farmers and preserving quite than tying up farmland, McCarthy mentioned.
Novel’s willingness to collaborate with Maine’s environmental rules and construct the panels in tune with the land are explanation why the Caribou Planning Board permitted the proposal, Caribou Code Enforcement Officer Ken Murchison mentioned.
With Aroostook identified for its scenic views of open fields, residents could be justified in having issues about photo voltaic panels blocking the panorama, Murchison mentioned. However up to now just a few residents have voiced them. They later rescinded them after realizing that their properties usually are not as near the photo voltaic panels as they thought.
That can be excellent news for the areas close to the Aroostook River, which metropolis officers need to redevelop for industrial and residential use. Murchison mentioned that whereas making ready for building of a 25-acre photo voltaic farm close to the river, ENGIE, a global firm with Houston headquarters, selected a website that doesn’t disrupt riverfront views.
Photo voltaic builders extra acquainted to Aroostook’s municipalities are constructing related tasks whereas touting what they see as vital financial savings for electrical clients.
Throughout a March metropolis council assembly, Shawn Pelletier, one of many buyers with Caribou Photo voltaic Energy and Nordic Solar Power, mentioned that altogether each teams have a dozen tasks in growth in Aroostook that focus on industrial subscribers. Two in Presque Isle and one in Mapleton are slated for building this summer time.
Like Novel, Caribou Photo voltaic and Nordic have mentioned that subscribers save round 10 to fifteen p.c on their month-to-month electrical payments, which come from photo voltaic power credit primarily based on how a lot of a venture their subscription contains. The businesses ask potential subscribers to signal on months earlier than tasks go surfing.
However although Pelletier inspired metropolis officers to behave shortly to subscribe to a photo voltaic venture, he recommended the residential clients use extra warning. He used the instance of his father signing up as a photo voltaic farm subscriber, solely to search out out that the venture was being inbuilt southern Maine, outdoors the native electrical grid.
“I’d encourage everybody to enroll, however I’d ask questions like ‘When will [the project] be constructed?’ and ‘The place’s your photo voltaic farm?’” Pelletier mentioned. “Make sure that it’s an actual venture. As a result of in case you join, the true tasks are going to get developed and you then’ll miss out.”
Maine Public Advocate Invoice Harwood had related recommendation for residential subscribers.
Even when builders have a official venture within the works, they won’t bear in mind how a lot electrical energy clients repeatedly use, he mentioned.
“At any time when I hear a developer say ’15-percent assured financial savings,’ the phrase ‘assured’ makes me nervous,” Harwood mentioned. “I at all times use the instance of ‘the retired golfer’ who lives in Florida each winter. If his [solar energy] credit are greater than he makes use of for his house in Maine, the credit are ineffective.”
Reporter David DiMinno contributed to this report.