This 3D simulation shows one of the proposed sites for a solar farm at Skyway Industrial Park in Presque Isle. Credit: Courtesy of Brad Wilson

PRESQUE ISLE, Maine — A multimillion-dollar solar farm project is expected to generate large annual electric savings for the city of Presque Isle and nearby industrial companies who take part in the project.

The Minnetonka, Minnesota-based National Renewable Solutions is developing plans for two solar farms at Skyway Industrial Park, each located on a 15-acre parcel of land near the Presque Isle International Airport. Construction should begin in late spring and be completed by the end of autumn, senior solar developer Brad Wilson said.

One of the company’s priorities was to not take land away from agricultural farms and companies or build on land that would require forestland to be cut, which made the acres on Skyway ideal locations, Wilson said.

National Renewable Solutions has traditionally invested in wind energy projects since its founding in 2011, but recently began its first phase of investing in solar energy, Wilson said. In particular, the company wants to partner with rural municipalities that might be overlooked for such projects compared to more urban communities.

After learning about the Maine Legislature passing a bill that commits the state to investing in solar power over a 20-year period, National Renewable Solutions soon saw that most companies were targeting central and southern Maine for solar development.

“We saw [in our research] that Presque Isle is the commercial and industrial hub for the region,” Wilson said. “We felt that Aroostook County also deserved to benefit from a project like this as much as a city like Portland does.”

National Renewable Solutions will pay rent to the city for the land that the panels will be located on as part of a lease agreement. The panels themselves will be exempt from property taxes, which will allow the city to benefit from Maine’s Business Equipment Tax Exemption program.

During a previous visit to the city council in October 2020, Wilson had estimated that the city could save $1.4 million in electric costs over the next 20 years.

As for costs to National Renewable Solutions, Wilson said that the exact total for installation costs and rent payments, balanced some by tax exemptions and other savings, will be more firmly calculated once the project is closer to construction.

Once the panels are installed, the city and several area industrial companies will “subscribe” to the project, meaning they will receive solar energy credits toward their electric bills as part of an agreement between National Renewable Solutions and Versant Power. The credits will translate into reducing the subscribers’ energy bills.

“The amount [of solar energy credits] a subscriber receives depends on how they are classified as an electric customer,” Wilson said. “We are close to getting the project 100 percent subscribed.”

The city had received at least three offers from other solar developers, Tom Powers, executive director of the Presque Isle Industrial Council, said. But the Industrial Council and city officials were most impressed with the amount of research National Renewable Solutions had done on the community and potential solar farm locations, plus the benefits the company offered as part of its project proposal.

“They visited us at least three or four times to answer questions. It always seemed like they had done their homework [on the region] and had experience with these projects,” Powers said.

National Renewable Resources has since received city permits and approval from the Maine Department of Environmental Protection to begin constructing the panels on the sites, located to the north and south of the airport.

“Tom and his team have been very helpful throughout this process. We [NRS] consider our relationship with the city to be the most valuable aspect of this project,” Wilson said.