Rural Maine Receives More than $17 Million for Three New Solar Projects
Three solar energy projects in rural Maine have been awarded more than $17 million in loan guarantees through the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA)’s Rural Energy for America Program. The Pequawket Trail Baldwin Solar LLC, in Baldwin, will receive $10.9 million, North Nobleboro Road Waldoboro Solar LLC will receive $4.8 million, and, just up the road in Gardiner, Enterprise Avenue Gardiner Solar LLC will receive $2 million.
“This substantial investment in renewable energy systems means clean solar energy will be produced locally, potentially resulting in significant savings for residential, commercial, and industrial rate payers in Maine’s rural communities,” said USDA Rural Development Acting State Director Tommy R. Higgins. “I am pleased Rural Development can work alongside solar developers and lenders to create renewable energy opportunities in Maine.”
Two of the projects, Pequawket Trail and North Nobleboro Road Waldoboro, will use the funding to build ground-mounted solar projects, while Gardiner will refinance a short-term loan to build a 1.3-megawatt roof-mounted project. In each case, the projects have interconnection and net energy billing agreements in place with Central Maine Power Company. Pequawket Trail will produce the most electricity, with at least 8.4 million kilowatts expected for the first full year of operation. In addition, each location expects to add at least three jobs at an average wage of $30 per hour.
Maine is lighting up with new solar developments after seven new laws passed by the state legislature in 2019. Most significantly, the Pine Tree State increased net metering for arrays to five megawatts, up from 660 kilowatts. This is a huge difference – previously only a few thousand panels on three to four acres were allowed. Under the new law, arrays can cover up to 30 acres. In addition, the new legislation allows large-scale commercial and institutional owners to recover costs easily, spurring additional growth and encouraging partnerships.
The state is also encouraging the use of the new federal tax credits. These credits are a part of the overarching sustainability initiatives underway from the new federal administration. With an emphasis on adding solar – as well as solar research and development – across the country, these are significant tax credits for sustainable research and development, transportation, and low-income installation. These credits are all a part of the COVID-19 stimulus bill passed into law in late December 2020 and designed to provide billions of dollars for clean energy.The Rural Energy for America Program is currently accepting applications for the fiscal year 2021. USDA Rural Development is a mission area within the U.S. Department of Agriculture that runs programs intended to improve the economy and quality of life in rural America. The Rural Energy program provides guaranteed loan financing and grant funding to agricultural producers and rural small businesses for renewable energy systems or to make energy efficiency improvements.