If you’ve driven through Augusta on I-95 lately, you’ve probably noticed the work being done by the Maine Department of Transportation to install solar arrays within the interstate rights-of-way at exits 109 and 112.

The state-owned land within these highway exchanges has sat vacant since the creation of the interstate system in the 1950s. It is not useable for agriculture, animal habitat, or construction. Maine can, however, reap significant environmental and financial benefits by using this previously unusable state land to generate clean energy.

Once these solar installations are complete, the panels will send low-cost renewable energy into the grid to power state office buildings throughout the Augusta area. We will be able to say that the Capitol Street and AMHI-East campuses — representing the core of state government buildings in Augusta — will be powered by solar.

The arrays will also send the message that Maine is leading by example: thinking creatively about ways to reduce the impact our energy use has on our climate and our open spaces, while also saving taxpayers money.

The solar arrays inside the I-95 right of way will generate approximately 3.2 MW AC of solar energy — enough to power more than 850 homes — and are estimated to reduce state carbon emissions by the equivalent of 3.1 million pounds of greenhouse gases. These local renewable energy sources on I-95 will reduce greenhouse gas emissions and reduce state electricity costs by about $3.3 million over the next 20 years.

Additionally, the cost to the State of Maine is nominal. The project developer — Cenergy — is covering the cost of development, construction, operation, and maintenance. The developer is also paying to lease the land from the state for the next two decades. In short, this is a financial win-win for our state and its taxpayers.


Development in the interstate exchanges aligns perfectly with Maine Audubon’s established principles on siting solar development with the least impact to wildlife habitat and other natural resources.

By locating arrays in the exchanges, MaineDOT is utilizing degraded land that could serve few other purposes; is avoiding sensitive wildlife habitat and high-value natural resources like prime agricultural soils and large, intact forest landscapes; and isn’t compromising wildlife corridors that species need to thrive as they move across the landscape.

MaineDOT will also be planting pollinator-friendly plant species around the panels; many of these plant species are native to Maine. Once these plants fully grow in over the first couple of years, the site will showcase Maine’s natural beauty with plants and flowers that are beneficial to bees, butterflies, and other insects.

The U.S. Department of Transportation encourages such development in interstate rights-of-way. Similar projects already exist in Massachusetts, Maryland, Georgia, Florida, and Oregon.

By some estimates, the lower 48 states have more than 52,000 acres of empty roadside land at interstate exits suitable for solar energy development. Placing solar panels at these exits could generate up to 36 terawatt-hours (TWh) a year — that’s enough to power roughly 4.5 million homes. The value of this energy generated by roadside solar is estimated at $4 billion per year.

Maine is proud to lead by example: harnessing otherwise unusable land to generate clean energy, supporting farmers by planting pollinator-friendly plant species, and saving taxpayers money without depleting more precious natural resources.

Bruce Van Note is commissioner of the Maine Department of Transportation. Eliza Donoghue is director of advocacy and staff attorney at Maine Audubon.

Comments are no longer available on this story