PITTSFIELD — A 41,000-panel solar array has gotten the green light to go forward and become at least partially operational by the end of the calendar year.

Peter Vigue, chief executive officer of Cianbro, said site development for what will be the largest solar array in the state is mostly complete at this point. He said foundation work for racking will begin in the near future, and panels will arrive and be installed after that. Part of the project will go online by the end of 2017, and Vigue said more panels will be installed over the spring.

Environmental regulators aproved the $24.2 million project in June, and this week the Maine Public Utilities Commission allowed Cianbro to enter into a long-term partnership with Central Maine Power Co. Vigue said Cianbro responded to a request for proposals from the PUC and was selected for this project. The approval they received this week was a final step.

Cianbro’s 57-acre solar farm will be off U.S. Route 2, but it originally had been proposed for installation in Monroe, in Waldo County. The project will generate a maximum of 9.9 megawatts. CMP will pay 8.45 cents per kilowatt-hour for that electricity over a 20-year contract.

Vigue said Monroe had been proposed as a potential site, but the Pittsfield location proved to be more attractive. Since Cianbro is based in Pittsfield, Vigue said it made more sense to locate the project there. He said Cianbro is sensitive to the people who live in Pittsfield, as the economy has faced challenges with the loss of UTC Fire & Security, which had been the town’s second-largest employer, as well as the loss of the San Antonio Shoe factory, which closed in 2008.

“We believe we could have a significant impact on the community by doing this here locally,” Vigue said. “So that has really driven our decision.”

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The Pittsfield location is also closer to an electricity substation, which also made it more attractive, he said.

“It’s a piece of property for the most part we owned, so it made a lot more sense,” Vigue said.

The company employs over 1,350 people in Maine, Vigue said, and is continuing to hire more employees. He said the hiring will be for the construction of not only this project, but also projects all across Maine.

The fenced-in 57 acres are part of a larger 113-acre parcel of woodlands, grass and some structures.

When the solar farm was expected to be in Monroe, CMP would have negotiated contracts with both Cianbro Development Corp. and Clear Energy LLC.

The project is expected to be fully operational by spring 2018. When it does, the Pittsfield array will be the largest in the state, surpassing the size of the 26,000-panel farm at the Madison Business Gateway, which occupies about 22 acres and generates about 5 megawatts.

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The Pittsfield solar project is one of many in the region. Colby College, in Waterville, expects to have a 5,300-panel, 1.8-megawatt photovoltaic energy project ready for the fall.

Two large-scale utilities are in the works in the central Maine towns of Fairfield and Clinton. The farms would generate enough power for 6,000 out-of-state homes combined and create more than 200 jobs locally. Ranger Solar, based in Yarmouth, plans to generate 20 megawatts of power at each site, selling the energy to buyers in Connecticut. The exact locations of the farms have not been released, but each is expected to cost around $20 million.

Ranger Solar also is planning 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.

Other schools in the region also have turned to solar arrays to offset energy costs. 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.

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.

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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 flipped the switch in early April on its new array at the Common Ground Education Center on Crosby Brook Road, 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.

Colin Ellis — 861-9253

[email protected]

Twitter: @colinoellis

 


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