HANCOCK — With fall just around the corner, our hours of daily sunlight are waning, but solar energy developers are eager to harness those rays.
Following the 2019 passage of statewide legislation that incentivizes solar technology, many local planning boards have given the green light to solar project applications. Now, some of those proposed projects are starting to take shape.
One of those projects is a commercial solar farm being built in Hancock on former blueberry barrens owned by Merrill’s Blueberry Farms on the Washington Junction Road.
The project’s solar array footprint spans 100 acres and will produce an estimated 20 megawatts of energy — enough to power about 4,200 homes and provide benefits for Versant Power ratepayers in Hancock County, said Zach Good, the project’s manager.
The project is being developed through a partnership with BNRG Renewables, an Irish company, and Portland-based Dirigo Solar, and is owned by the Carlyle Group based in New York.
It is part of the Carlyle Group’s eight project portfolio in the state, which includes project sites in Oxford, Augusta, Fairfield, Milo, Palmyra, Winslow and Auburn.
Rows upon rows of “racking,” the infrastructure where 36,000 solar panels will be individually placed, have been installed throughout the barrens.
“All underground and overhead utility construction is complete, all power inverters are in place with wiring underway, racking construction will be complete by mid-September and module installation to follow shortly after,” Good said.
Building on blueberry barrens has allowed the developers to take advantage of the already cleared land, Good noted, adding that the site should revegetate.
The project has created about 135 temporary construction jobs, with roughly half of those filled by Mainers, Good said.
Supply chain issues caused by the COVID-19 pandemic have not significantly affected the project.
“We’ve felt very little constraints,” Good explained, adding that the nature of the construction keeps workers outside and spaced apart.
So, how will it work? For this project, and the seven others in the same portfolio, “power is purchased from the project directly by Versant Power at a wholesale rate that is significantly lower than that of traditional generation,” Good explained. Ratepayers benefit because these solar projects “are enabling utility companies to source power locally at a far lower cost that will result in long-term savings for ratepayers.”
Good reported that the target timeframe to have the project commercially operational is mid-December. Construction on the project started in April.