Maine’s largest healthcare system is making a big deal out of solar power. Not-for-profit provider MaineHealth has signed agreements with three solar electric developers to support ten proposed solar farms, which will ultimately generate half the power used by MaineHealth properties. This 20-year agreement is believed to be the biggest deal for solar power made by a single Maine company, institution or entity, and it is expected to save MaineHealth at least $1 million in electric bills annually. The organization operates nine hospital systems, including Maine Medical Center in Portland, all of which have sustained losses due to canceled surgeries and preventative care during the COVID shutdown. The ability to direct $1 million toward services instead of electricity bills couldn’t have come at a better time.
MaineHealth’s vice president for system development Troy Trejo said they decided to invest in solar with the three-fold intention of reducing the organization’s impact on climate change, creating healthier communities and lowering patients’ cost of care by saving money on energy. “Any residual benefit is 100 percent redirected to our mission of improving the health of our community,” said Trejo. MaineHealth seeks to explore what can be achieved under today’s energy policies while preserving the option to participate in future opportunities. This transition aligns them with a parallel effort within state government to contract the largest procurement of clean energy in Maine history. Last year, the state legislature passed a bill requiring that 80 percent of Maine’s power be generated from clean energy by 2030, and 100 percent by 2050, updating the state’s Renewable Portfolio Standard, the regulatory mandate to increase the contribution of solar, wind and other renewables to the power supply.
MaineHealth’s choice to work with a trio of large-scale solar installers allows the organization to take advantage of these changes to state law, with significant economic rewards. This requires evaluation by the Maine Public Utilities Commission to determine the effectiveness of MaineHealth’s program in reaching the state’s energy goals and providing benefits to electric customers. Competitive Energy Services–the Portland-based consultant that helped MaineHealth arrange the deals–projects that the 10 solar farms expected to come online in the next two years will generate $90 million in investment. The creation of jobs and tax revenue will be especially welcome in a time of economic downturn. With the MaineHealth package, the power truly lies in the community. Instead of building a single power plant, the investment will be spread across 10 communities from Benton to Saco. Dan Burgess, who heads up the Governor’s Energy Office, says: “It’s really positive to see this development happening now. This is a great example of a business in Maine investing in clean energy to really secure its energy future while reducing costs and reducing greenhouse gas emissions.”
Competitive Energy Services is now working with the city of Portland and an impressive roster of businesses including L.L. Bean, the University of Maine and Nestle Waters to explore an even larger clean-energy package expected to include more than 35 projects that could generate 140 megawatts of solar-powered electricity. With development set to begin next year, Maine’s economy is already heating up.