Attorney and energy project developer Kim Kenway has purchased 12.8 acres at the former Navy radar base in Corea, where he plans to build the state’s largest grid-connected solar project through Gouldsboro Solar LLC, a company he started last year.
If built, the project would be the state’s single-largest solar array, with a capacity of 2.8 megawatts and 9,500 solar panels, but Kenway said financing for the $9 million project depends on changes in state law that would allow solar projects to sell renewable energy credits.
There are numerous bills dealing with solar energy policy this session. Kenway said one in particular, LD 1263, outlines a state policy that would bring Maine in line with solar policies in states such as Massachusetts and Vermont. The bill was introduced by Assistant House Minority Leader Sara Gideon, a Democrat from Freeport.
Such a policy would require state utilities to contract for a certain amount of power supply from solar energy projects. Kenway said he reviewed an early draft of the bill and did offer suggestions on that draft.
The other major component of financing would come through a long-term contract with The Jackson Laboratory, which would buy power generated by the project. Gouldsboro Solar issued a statement Wednesday stating that The Jackson Laboratory signed a letter of intent to purchase all of the solar project’s power, an announcement local officials praised.
“The Navy radar site has gone unused for over 15 years. It’s wonderful to think that we could add a large-scale, non-polluting power project to our town and, of course, to our town tax rolls,” said Gouldsboro Town Manager Eve Wilkinson in the statement.
“I’m really pleased and excited about the project,” Wilkinson told the Bangor Daily News in Gouldsoro later Wednesday. “I’m so thrilled that Mr. Kenway is considering Gouldsboro.”
Dana Rice, chairman of the Gouldsboro Board of Selectmen, also said he supports the project.
“I absolutely think it’s going to be good,” he said. “It has no moving parts, and it generates power.”
He also was glad that the solar panels wouldn’t make any noise to disturb residents.
Describing himself as “not a treehugger,” Rice said if someone had suggested 20 years ago that he would be supporting solar power, he would have thought the person was crazy. But he sees no reason not to support the project now.
Melissa Harrington, co-owner of Two Sisters Cafe and Deli in Prospect Harbor, said she had not heard about the proposal.
“WIll it create jobs?” she asked. “Any activity in this area we gladly welcome.”
A customer, Tiffany Linscott of Steuben, also had not heard about the project but said she supports any efforts to switch to alternative, clean fuels.
To ensure their economic viability, long-term contracts are almost required for developers to pursue grid-scale solar projects. Jeff Thaler, the University of Maine’s visiting professor of energy policy, law and ethics, said during a March 25 forum on electricity subsidies that the return on investment for a commercial solar project can be as long as 18 years.
Kenway said the project also would benefit from federal tax credits if completed before 2016. A 30 percent tax credit for solar projects expires in 2016 but could be extended by Congress.
With a long-term power purchasing agreement, federal credits and access to Maine’s market for renewable energy credits, which now largely go to biomass producers, Kenway said the project could work.
“We need to get this bill enacted,” Kenway said.
Other than policy hurdles, Kenway said the project that would be built by Portland-based ReVision Energy would be straightforward in construction and connecting to the grid.
The former Navy radar base is located in a peat bog, meaning there are few trees that could block the sunlight. The site already has power transmission infrastructure to connect to the project.
Kenway said it would be the first solar energy project he’s developed, though he has a longer history with energy policy in the state. Kenway said he was a staff attorney for the Maine Public Utilities Commission from 1979 to 1984, an in-house attorney at Central Maine Power Co. for three years after and then joined the Portland law firm Curtis Thaxter, primarily in the area of energy and telecommunications law.
He also is a vice president of Thermal Energy Storage of Maine, which is a contractor with an energy pilot project in Boothbay. His company manages air conditioning units that draw power at night instead of during the day, to shift peak demand. The project is what’s called a nontransmission alternative to solving capacity needs for the grid.
For the solar project, Kenway said he purchased a portion of the land owned by Maine Halibut, which bought the former Navy land from the Eastern Maine Development Corp. to develop an aquaculture business.
“There’s minimal land preparation, and it’s out of the way,” Kenway said.
His company’s proposal comes after the Maine Public Utilities Commission completed a study estimating the value to the grid of solar power, which can help reduce peak demand during the hottest periods of the hottest summer days.
Solar projects such as the one Kenway proposes also offer potential benefits for all electricity customers because they could delay the need to build higher-capacity transmission and distribution lines, which are one component of power bills, according to the PUC’s study.
That study and the solar power bill proposed by Gideon were discussed at the March 25 energy forum in Augusta.
Tuck O’Brien, an attorney for the Maine Public Utilities Commission, said the study aimed to balance the transmission costs of connecting distributed solar arrays to the grid with the benefits of reduced carbon emissions and certainty that light from the sun will remain free to those on Earth.
O’Brien said deferring costly transmission and distribution projects that will either hit ratepayers or utilities is becoming an increasing concern for energy policymakers around the country.
The study estimated the real value of solar power at close to 32 cents per kilowatt hour, though O’Brien said the exact number is not as important as how the study estimated that value.
That’s because benefits such as reduced emissions or avoiding costly transmission projects aren’t currently reflected in power rates and the methods used in the PUC’s solar study could provide a framework for state regulators to begin putting a value on those benefits.
Bowdoin College financed the state’s largest solar array, with about 1.2 megawatts of capacity, last year. The project was built by the California-based SolarCity.