A 30-acre capped landfill on Stabawl Road past Northern Light Maine Coast Hospital will be suggested to developers looking to put a solar farm in Ellsworth, said City Manager David Cole. The city has been approached by several companies looking to possibly situate a solar farm in the area in recent months, Cole said. ELLSWORTH AMERICAN PHOTO BY KATE COUGH

Former dump eyed for solar farm



ELLSWORTH — Large-scale solar may be coming to Ellsworth.

“We’ve had a number of solar developers contact us with interest” in installing solar arrays on city-owned land, said City Manager David Cole, adding that the city plans to solicit quotes for a company to develop a solar farm of up to 5 acres in the coming weeks.

Under a potential power purchase agreement, the city would buy power from the farm at a fixed rate to offset municipal energy costs, but would not own or manage the solar development.

“Ellsworth has the land; it has the access to the grid. It’s in the right location. We’re kind of the vortex of the Downeast Acadia region. To the extent that private solar developers want to come in,” said Cole, “that’s a win-win.”

City Councilor Gary Fortier announced at Monday evening’s Council meeting that a recently formed working group comprised of city staff, consultant George Wood and councilors Fortier and Heather Grindle has been working on developing a request for quotations (RFQ) to distribute to interested companies.

“There’s been a lot of talk out there that Ellsworth isn’t doing anything solar,” Fortier said. “We are. We’re just trying to do it in a thoughtful time frame so we don’t make some mistakes that other communities have.”

The city is looking at the potential of a farm up to 5 acres, said Fortier. Energy produced there would be used to reduce electrical costs for the city.

The city of Belfast offsets 90 percent of its electricity costs with the help of solar power, he added.

Cole said the city feels the 30-acre capped landfill off Stabawl Road, past Northern Light Maine Coast Hospital, could be a good site.

“If we could use the landfill that would be excellent,” said Cole, “and what a fitting use for a capped landfill.”

But the ultimate site would be up to the company, said Cole, who declined to say which companies had approached the city.

“We’ll let the developers figure that out,” said Cole. “The main thing is to get a long-term power purchase agreement on favorable terms to the city to power city operations via solar.”

A power purchase agreement is an arrangement in which a developer would bear the brunt of costs for the design, permitting, financing and installation of a solar farm on property owned by another entity (in this case, possibly the city).

The electricity that’s generated on the site would then be sold to the city at a fixed rate, an agreement that could last for decades. However long the contract lasts, the developer would make money selling electricity and also stands to benefit from tax credits and incentives. The company would be responsible for operating and maintaining the system. When the contract is up, the city could buy the farm, ask the developer to remove it, or extend the contract.

The goal for the initial project would be to offset municipal electric costs with solar, said Cole, but it wouldn’t have to stop there.

“There’s nothing to preclude expanding that out to community uses as well.” The city is interested in facilitating community solar farms, said Cole, and potentially becoming a solar exporter.

“The substations are here, the power lines, and there’s a lot of land in Ellsworth. It’s more than just meeting our power needs. Ellsworth has the chance to be an exporter of solar energy. We’ll see.”

Ellsworth isn’t the only city in the area that developers have approached in recent months. Recent legislation, such as a law encouraging solar projects and aggressive clean-energy goals announced by Governor Janet Mills, rewrote the rules of solar in the state and attracted the attention of solar producers nationwide.

“This new legislation has drawn considerable national interest in Maine,” said Cole.

Even tiny Calais is getting in on the action. Judy East, executive director of the Washington County Council of Governments, said in an interview last month that the city had been approached by a solar firm out of Maryland “looking into the landfills, the former and closed landfills of municipalities, as places to erect solar arrays.”

“The fact that a firm in Maryland is approaching a city as small as Calais I think is significant,” said East. “The economics of solar generation have gotten significantly less expensive just in the last five years.”

A list of current projects vying for connection to Central Maine Power’s distribution system shows 85 proposed solar farms. Most are concentrated in central and western Maine, but Orland is also on the list.

Landfills are often of particular interest, said East.

“Those little old dumps … there’s that lovely south-facing slope of the old landfill growing grass, and wouldn’t it be cool to have a solar array up there.”

But developers also are looking at other sites, including pasture land, which is attractive because it’s already been cleared. One farmer in Monmouth was offered between $800 and $1,000 per acre per year to lease his farmland to a solar developer, according to the Portland Press Herald, in an area where landowners typically lease hay fields for $50 an acre.

“This is big business,” Andy Smith, co-owner of The Milkhouse, told the paper. “There’s a lot of money behind it, if they’re offering those kind of figures to lease land.”

But all of the plans are still in the early stages, Cole cautioned.

“The PUC [Public Utilities Commission] hasn’t even published the rules yet. It’s all still very new. But we’re not waiting and other communities aren’t either.”

Kate Cough

Kate Cough

Digital Media Strategist
Kate is the paper's Digital Media Strategist, responsible for all things social, and the occasional story too! She's a former reporter for the paper and can be reached at: [email protected]
Kate Cough

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