Maine’s solar power output has surged in two years. ‘Community solar’ projects play a big part

ReVision Energy’s Derek Turnbull, left, and Nick Sampson at a new “community solar” farm in Acton. (Fred Bever/Maine Public)

A mid-sized project in York County that’s part of the state’s new “community solar” program is just about to go live.

It’s happening as the state’s capacity for generating low-polluting electricity from the sun has surged in the last two years by more than 300% — and that’s expected to grow as the state moves closer to its clean energy goals.

This story is part of Maine Public’s series “Climate Driven: A deep dive into Maine’s response, one county at a time.

That’s largely due to a slate of reforms Gov. Janet Mills, supportive lawmakers and solar advocates helped to enact in 2019, which ended years of anemic growth under the administration of former Governor Paul LePage, who was hostile to renewable energy development.

The new agenda has had its setbacks, and there is an ongoing debate over whether costs are being allocated fairly, which is one of LePage’s chief critiques. But it’s undeniably opened up a lot of opportunities for new solar initiatives.

In the rural town of Acton, in the state’s southwestern corner, a fleet of solar panels sprouted this summer from an old hillside farm field. Derek Turnbull is site-manager for ReVision Energy, which is doing the installation.

“It was land purchased by a neighbor here, and it was just a pasture really,” Turnbull said. “He was going to develop it with housing and stuff but he decided to go with solar instead right now, and it’s a great site.”

He said it’s taken about a year to plan, construct and do the electrical work for the 17 acres worth of solar panels.

“It is a great site in that we’re not cutting any trees to install it. This site has roughly 12,000 modules,” Turnbull said. “We have a couple dozen inverters — two totally new services, so we got two new transformers, two new switchboards, all going into a new tie-in with Central Maine Power.”

The project’s capacity is a little over four megawatts. ReVision’s development manager for the project, Nick Sampson, said depending on how much the sun shines any given year, it should produce 5.2 million kilowatt hours of electricity.

“You’re close to 800-850 households basically,” he said.

The appearance of projects like this has been sparked by a slate of changes in state law pushed by the Mills administration in 2019, in a studied effort to undo the LePage legacy.

That included an expansion in the size of solar operations that are allowed to earn credits for supplying power to the grid, under the policy known as “net metering,” or “net energy billing.” Previously limited to about two-thirds of a megawatt, net metering projects could now be as large as five megawatts (although that was later scaled back out of concerns the program was growing too fast).

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