HANCOCK — A new solar facility is set to be built in Hancock as part of a massive development project currently underway across the state.
An Irish company, BNRG Renewables, is partnering with Portland-based Dirigo Solar to oversee the building of the facility at Merrill’s Blueberry Farms on Thorsen Road in Hancock. The 60-acre, 20.3-megawatt project is one of several set to be built by the two developers as part of a major investment in solar power in Maine.
Construction on the project is set to begin in 2021 and will be completed by the end of that year. The Hancock location is one of three awaiting construction along with sites in Auburn and Palmyra. Construction has already begun on additional BNRG and Dirigo projects in Augusta, Fairfield, Milo, Oxford and Winslow.
Bob Cleaves, the co-founder and lead investor for Dirigo Solar, called Hancock an “ideal location” for a solar project. The Thorsen Road location, he said, fits developers’ needs in terms of its topography and direct line of sight to an electrical substation.
“The great thing about the Hancock site is that it gives blueberry growers a way to diversify their revenue,” Cleaves told The American. “It’s a great way to take land that wasn’t quite as productive before and maximize the revenue for it.”
The Hancock project, according to Dirigo Solar’s website, will cost $20 million and bring 136 construction jobs to Hancock County. In all, development on the eight sites across Maine will cost an estimated $98 million and create a total of 654 construction jobs.
Energy generated from the Hancock project will be enough to power 4,180 homes, according to the developers. That renewable energy will feed entirely into the local distribution system, meaning residents in nearby towns will be able to reap the benefits of the farm’s solar output firsthand.
“All of our projects in Maine are being fed into local transmission,” Cleaves said. “When we’re generating power in Hancock, it’s being consumed in Hancock, Ellsworth, Lamoine and all of your local towns. It’s not going to people in Boston.”
Thus far, the joint venture has attracted $100 million in private investment at the statewide level. The Portland Press Herald reported earlier this month that the projects could bring as much as $500 million worth of capital spending to Maine.
The solar facility comes to Hancock County at a time when solar panels are becoming increasingly efficient and cost-effective. Utility-scale solar endeavors, which direct panel-generated power into energy grids, have made it far easier for developers to take on significant capital and generate power on a large scale.
“Maine has a late-bloomer advantage,” BNRG Director David Maguire told the Press Herald. “Maine has the opportunity to do solar right at a time when the cost of capital is historically low and the cost of the technology is historically low.”
Maine, Cleaves said, also has a few other factors working in its favor when it comes to solar power. The state’s relatively low population density makes it an attractive proposition for developers looking to secure vast amounts of land, and those in charge of solar projects have received significant support from government officials.
“I think Maine has a unique combination of a very supportive state government, lots of land and plenty of opportunity,” Cleaves said. “The chance of running into conflicting land uses is much greater when you’re in a state where the population is so highly concentrated, but Maine doesn’t have that.”
The farm is one of two major Hancock County solar facilities expected to be operational by next year. Last year, the Maine Public Utilities Commission approved a proposal by Three Rivers Solar Power LLC to build a 100-megawatt facility on a 1,115-acre plot in Township 16. That facility will be the largest in the state once completed.
Across all sites, the 108.1-megawatt BNRG-Dirigo project will power a total of 22,440 homes across the state. That number could grow in the future as the two companies look to build additional sites across the state in the coming years, Cleaves said.
“It’s a significant undertaking that’s going to bring power to the state and create in-state jobs on top of the environmental benefits,” Cleaves said. “Solar power is really having a breakthrough moment here, and it’s something to be excited about.”