Maine regulators approve state’s largest solar project

If all goes as planned, Maine will see the first phase of its largest solar project to date online by the end of this year. Last week the state’s Public Utilities Commission (MPUC) approved a contract with Central Maine Power for the output of a 9.9 MW project in Pittsfield, Maine.

With this approval, Massachusetts-based construction contractor Cianbro, which is developing the Pittsfield plant, expects to put the first 4 MW online by December 2017, and after a break to accommodate the harsh Maine winter, to complete the entire project by the summer of 2018.

According to an article last week in the Maine Press-Herald, site work is mostly complete, and foundation work will begin shortly.

The project will greatly increase Maine’s solar capacity. The largest reported solar plant to go online to date is estimated at 5 MW, and Maine is one of the 11 states that GTM Research and SEIA do not even bother to include in their quarterly solar market assessments.

This is the third such utility-scale project in one of these “forgotten” states in less than one month, following news that Duke will build 6.8 MW of utility-scale solar in Kentucky and that SunPower will build a 10 MW solar project in Oklahoma.

The Pittsfield project will be built under a 50 MW pilot program for community-based renewable energy established by Maine lawmakers in 2009. The program appears to have foundered for its first few years, and as a result in 2015 MPUC issued an RFP for community-based projects, which resulted in the Pittsfield project.

Unlike community solar programs where the output of projects is sold to a network of subscribers, the Pittsfield solar project will sell its output to Central Maine Power.

In its definition of community-owned solar, Maine’s pilot program spells out that such projects must be majority owned by state residents. Cianbro not only qualifies for this distinction, but is an employee-owned company.