A New Hampshire developer is looking to build a 12-acre solar array off Arista Drive in Brewer behind Lowe’s Home Improvement.
The fenced-in site would be connected to Arista Drive by a gravel access road and produce two megawatts of power, according to the application. Arista Drive, off of Wilson Street, serves as the entrance to the Lowe’s Home Improvement store and is in an area of the city dominated by retail developments.
The project is the latest among hundreds that developers have proposed in Maine since 2019, when the Legislature opened the door to community solar projects from in-state and out-of-state developers. Some of those projects have run into hurdles as they wait in a long queue to connect to an electrical grid that’s not yet set up for a proliferation of smaller-scale solar projects. There’s a good chance many that have been proposed in recent years won’t be built.
“I think this is unused land that hasn’t brought much value to anybody,” said developer Andrew Kellar, founder of NH Solar Garden. “This seems to be a good use of this land. Why not put a community solar project out there and let the community benefit from it? We hope the public and town feel the same way.”
NH Solar Garden has five solar projects in the works in Maine, as well as others scattered across the Northeast. Following the Arista Drive project, Kellar said the company isn’t interested in adding more solar projects in Maine because, “based on the congestion we’re seeing in Maine…there’s just no more space in our opinion.”
A public hearing on the proposed solar array will be held during the planning board meeting on Monday at 6 p.m. at Brewer City Hall.
If the proposed array is approved, Kellar said his company would buy the land and hope to begin construction early next year. He said the project would take about three to four months to build, weather permitting.
Exactly who will be able to buy the power generated by the project hasn’t been decided, but other NH Solar Garden developments offer the power to a mix of residential and commercial Versant customers. The solar power also comes with an anticipated 10-15 percent discount on the electric bills of customers who subscribe to the community solar farm, Kellar said.
The solar farm application also includes a decommissioning plan for the array, which state law requires. The site’s 5,000 solar panels have a 25-year warranty.
Should the development be approved, it wouldn’t be the first in Brewer. The city has already approved four solar projects since December 2020, according to the Brewer planning department.
Last October, the city approved a solar panel installation proposed for Wiswell Road that rotates with the sun. That array is expected to generate up to 5 megawatts of electricity and go online in early 2023.
Maine has 3,765 solar project installations in place statewide, and solar panels produce just below 3 percent of the state’s electricity, according to the Solar Energy Industries Association.
The number of proposed solar installations in Maine increased dramatically after Gov. Janet Mills signed an expansion of the state’s net energy billing program into law in 2019 that offers incentives for new solar installations. The change was drafted to help the state reach Mills’ goal of 80 percent renewable energy by 2030 and an emissions reduction of 80 percent by 2050.
Nearby communities, meanwhile, have hit the brakes on allowing them after Penobscot County saw a wave of proposals for new solar installations.
Glenburn residents voted to ban large solar projects in town during a special meeting earlier this month, though that decision doesn’t affect small-scale solar installations on private or on small businesses’ property, such as roof-mounted arrays or ground projects smaller than 15,000 square feet.
Last fall, Dixmont temporarily halted solar projects while the town crafted rules requiring developers to reserve funding to cover the costs of decommissioning solar panels when they reached the end of their lifespan.
Ellsworth and Augusta also put a hold on solar panel construction last summer, citing concerns about overdevelopment and aesthetics.