WATERVILLE — Plans for a massive solar array on the city’s closed landfill continue to move forward, as the developers have been granted a one-year extension on their lease.

Gizos Energy LLC, which proposed building the 20-megawatt project on the Webb Road landfill as well as another 5-megawatt array across the street, asked to extend its lease option to continue development activities. The original lease was signed July 25, 2017, and the Falmouth-based energy company asked for a one-year lease with the same terms.

When it was first announced, the landfill was expected probably to be the largest such project on a closed landfill in the state, big enough to power 3,750 homes, and to cost the developer $25 million to $30 million. Like many such larger-scale projects in Maine, the energy would be sold out of state.

Gizos Energy also is working on a 5-megawatt array in Fairfield near the Kennebec Valley Community College campus. That array is in a 25-acre envelope, which potentially could cost up to $7 million, and the electricity produced there could be sold locally.

In addition to those three Maine projects, the company’s website lists a smaller project in Rhode Island. Gizos Energy is a relatively new company, but its three partners have many years of experience in the renewable energy field.

Gizos, named for the Abenaki word for “sun,” is a renewable energy company that focuses on developing utility-scale solar farms in the United States. It is the exclusive U.S. development partner for Germany-based hep energy GmbH, a solar investment and engineering firm.

Garvan Donegan, an economic development specialist for the Central Maine Growth Council, a public-private collaborative group based in Waterville, said Gizos needed the extension for research and development purposes on the 140-acre site.

“The reason this occurred is frankly a simple one,” Donegan said, explaining it was a larger and more challenging site to work with, compared to the 27-acre project also on Webb Road but near the airport.

Donegan said that during the past year Gizos has been working with the land, it has found wetlands on the 140-acre site that have proved challenging. He said the company will need at least 90 contiguous acres of “upland” to create a suitable envelope for the array to go into. He said while the company was expecting to find wetlands on the capped landfill, it now has to comb carefully through the site.

“They want another year period to get that 90-acre building envelope identified, continue to do site work, and I’m not surprised about that,” Donegan said.

During Monday night’s City Council meeting, Mayor Nick Isgro called the partnership between Gizos and the city beneficial, as the landfill is unused land at this point. Councilors agreed and voted unanimously to extend the lease.

Donegan said the company did not ask for a lease extension on the smaller parcel in Waterville because that site is progressing faster than the larger one. He said within the coming weeks, he expects the company to move forward with negotiating a long-term ground lease agreement on the site, which is listed on the company’s website as the Broadhead Solar Park.

“As of today, that looks good,” Donegan said.

He said the smaller Waterville site has an adequate amount of building envelope. He said it’s not surprising the smaller project is further along, since it has better site conditions and it’s higher and drier than the larger site.

Overall, he said, it appears Gizos is still in the same window of time for these projects, as it had been hoping to begin construction in 2020. He said there is still a need for due diligence on the larger site, and the company needs to be mindful of regulatory compliance issues on the larger site.

“We’re just being very methodical of … wanting to do a great and innovative solar project, but also managing the landfill in an appropriate way,” he said.

He said with a large project such as the one at the landfill, there is always the potential that it might not be feasible in the end. He said he remains ” quite optimistic” that it will get done, but that even if it can’t, he’s pleased they assessed the site and found out.

“These are pretty significant projects,” he said. “We have all the reason to want to go full charge ahead.”

As for the Fairfield project, he said that is moving along nicely, like the Broadhead Solar Park. The Fairfield site went into the planning process a few months after the Waterville projects did last year, and Donegan said he wouldn’t be surprised if the Fairfield project’s timeline overtook the larger Waterville one, again because it’s smaller and the land is easier to deal with.

“The site’s looking very strong, very feasible as of today,” Donegan said. “It’s been the best one to work on, from my perspective. My guess, as of today, is this fall (it) will be in a similar position as we are with Broadhead today, executing a formal ground lease agreement as soon as the fall.”

Gizos is one of a few companies working to create large-scale solar projects in central Maine. NextEra Energy Resources — a Florida-based company that recently took over the assets of Ranger Solar, of southern Maine, received approval from the Maine Department of Environmental Protection to move forward with the Fairfield project. A similar project in Clinton also was awaiting approval, but representatives from NextEra were unavailable to say whether that site also has been approved.

The two projects are expected to produce 20 megawatts of energy each, enough to power upward of 3,000 homes, and are projected to cost $30 million each.

The Fairfield project is scheduled to occupy 240 acres along U.S. Route 201; the Clinton project, 150 acres between Holt Road and Channing Place, which is near the Sebasticook River.

NextEra is also responsible for developing a large scale solar array in Farmington. The 75-megawatt solar facility will cost about $80 million. Bowdoin College and four Massachusetts colleges — Amherst, Hampshire, Smith and Williams — have signed on to buy renewable energy credits to help fund the array.

Other companies, such as ReVision Energy, continue to work on residential and municipal projects in the state as well.

Colin Ellis — 861-9253

[email protected]

Twitter: @colinoellis

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