People walk around on the University of Maine campus in Orono. Credit: Gabor Degre

The University of Maine System trustees on Monday took a step toward allowing construction of a renewable energy source to power the University of Maine’s campus in Orono.

At a meeting in Machias, trustees approved spending up to $5.7 million to plan out the project, which includes $4.2 million for Honeywell International Inc. for design services. The remaining $1.5 million will be reserved for the university to hire independent experts, system spokesman Dan Demeritt said.

The university system has been in negotiations with Honeywell for a year, since the conglomerate won the contract.

According to Demeritt, Honeywell will now come up with a plan to determine the scope and design of the project, at which point the university system will evaluate the company’s proposal.

“They’ve won the right to be the company we’re going to work with on the project if it’s in the university’s and the taxpayer’s interest to proceed,” he said.

Honeywell’s initial projections said the project could cost between $86 million and $160 million. The work would primarily involve replacing old infrastructure, and building new biomass and solar energy production facilities.

The university system currently envisions construction of new energy generation facilities, including a six-megawatt combined heat and power plant fueled by wood, and a six-megawatt solar plant to produce and distribute electricity.

According to documents presented to trustees at the meeting, Competitive Energy Services, an energy firm advising the university system on the project, was quoted saying that it is favorable to UMaine to proceed with the project despite reduced efficiency from the switch to green fuel, considering the advantages of reduced fuel costs and reduced greenhouse gas emissions.

Honeywell was awarded the contract in February 2018, almost two years after the university system sent out the initial solicitation notice. The system announced that Honeywell would replace its initial, choice ConEdison Solutions of New York, after the company withdrew from negotiations in January 2018.