A Longroad Energy solar farm in Monmouth is pictured in October. The company recently began construction of what will be the largest solar project in Maine. It will be located in Unity Township, Benton and Clinton. Credit: Courtesy of Longroad Energy

Massachusetts-based renewable energy developer Longroad Energy is starting construction on Maine’s largest solar farm, the Three Corners Solar project, in Kennebec County, the company announced Wednesday.

The $200 million project is anticipated to produce enough electricity to power about 30,000 homes each year. It is expected to achieve avoided emissions of approximately 140,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide annually, the equivalent of taking about 30,000 cars off the road for as long as the project operates.

Five years in the making, the 152-megawatt solar farm is one of many ongoing renewable energy projects geared toward meeting Maine’s statutory target of 80-percent clean energy by 2030.

The 926-acre solar project is located across two towns and an unincorporated territory: Benton, Clinton and Unity Township. Most of the construction will take place throughout 2023, and the project is expected to go online by early 2024, Matt Kearns, Longroad Energy’s chief development officer, said.

“Large projects can get done in Maine, and we need to be able to do this work if we’re going to meet our climate goals,” Kearns said. “It’s a massive investment in clean energy.”

To develop the solar project, the site had to be rezoned by the Land Use Planning Commission. In July, the company also received permit approval from the Maine Department of Environmental Protection, a process that took a year.

The land is owned by Bessey Development Co., a Hinckley-based, family-owned wood brokerage company, and has been in the Bessey family for more than five generations. Most of the land was previously used for commercial timber harvesting, and some of it was used by a tenant farmer to grow corn.

This specific location for the Three Corners Solar project was picked in part for access to the electrical grid.

The electricity produced from the project will be purchased by EDF Energy Services through a long-term power purchase agreement. EDF Energy Services will supply the energy to its corporate customers in New England, Longroad Energy said. The deal sets the record as the largest corporate purchase power agreement in the New England power grid.

In addition the solar farm will contribute to the reliability of the Maine and New England power grid by providing capacity to the regional grid operator, ISO New England, the company said.

The central Maine site was also selected because it was shielded from public view, given that residents have criticized other solar farms for being too visible in the past.

The company managed the site for “wildlife, people, engineering and to make sure that it is on dry land,” Kearns said.

Solar projects cannot accommodate trees, and the site is located in a forested area. Longroad Energy is currently completing the clearing of 690 acres of trees and other vegetation for the solar panels. It is also upgrading roads and access points, according to Kearns.

The company was careful to minimize its environmental impact on the site and avoid wetlands, he said. Maine companies worked on the environmental consultation, which was completed over a period of two years.

“We had to make sure we were avoiding vernal pools and other features to make sure that the project minimizes any impact to wildlife,” Kearns said.

The company conducted surveys for wildlife such as deer and amphibians. During a detailed survey, for instance, an environmental team evaluated frog eggs in wetland areas.

Due to the project’s size, there are some environmental impacts that are unavoidable, Kearns said.

A Longroad Energy solar farm in Monmouth is pictured in October. The company recently began construction of what will be the largest solar project in Maine. It will be located in Unity Township, Benton and Clinton. Credit: Courtesy of Longroad Energy

However, the environmental assessment was beneficial and involved Maine environmental consulting companies such as Stantec and Flycatcher, as well as graduates of local universities, Kearns said.

“Maine has the expertise,” Kearns said. “Building the workforce and the capability to deliver these important projects within the state is critical to meet its environmental goals.”

In compliance with the state’s conservation policies to reduce environmental effects, the company has conserved 1,875 acres — including 1,020 acres in what’s called the Unity Wetlands Focus Area, 324 acres in Readfield and 531 acres in Shirley.

The conservation agreements will “protect high value wetlands, deer wintering areas, inland waterfowl wading bird habitat and critical terrestrial habitat,” according to Longroad Energy.

Longroad Energy also has five smaller, less than 5-megawatt solar projects across Maine that are already developed or being developed. In 2020, it developed a 72.6-megawatt wind power project, Weaver Wind, in Hancock County.

The company is also planning to build an approximately 100-megawatt solar project, called Aroostook Sun, and a 1,000-megawatt wind project, King Pine, both in Aroostook County.

Do you have questions or observations about solar farms near you? Please email msher@bangordailynews.com.

Mehr Sher is a Report for America corps member. Additional support for this reporting is provided by the Unity Foundation and donations by BDN readers.

Avatar photo

Mehr Sher

Mehr Sher reports on the Maine environment. She is a Report for America corps member. Additional support for her reporting is provided by the Unity Foundation and donations by BDN readers.