Loring officials envision solar farm on otherwise unusable brownfield

Posted Jan. 28, 2011, at 11:43 p.m.

LIMESTONE, Maine — Loring Development Authority officials may have found the perfect fit for limited-use land at the Loring Commerce Centre.

The LDA board of trustees recently heard a presentation from representatives of Maine Energy Performance Solutions, a Washington, Maine-based business, about the possibility of installing a small field of solar collectors on the limited-use land, referred to as a brownfield, at the Loring Commerce Centre.

The company would use a specialized ballistic mounting system and solar panels designed to be noninvasive to the terrain, according to the presenters. The solar array would be brownfield-benign and have virtually no impact on the flow of precipitation, they said.

A brownfield is a property that contains a hazardous substance, pollutant or contaminant that hinders the reuse or redevelopment of a site.

But the term “brownfield” is sort of a misnomer at the Commerce Centre, according to LDA President and CEO Carl Flora. When the Loring Air Force Base closed, the military spent about $160 million cleaning up contaminated sites on the base; what is left, however, are a couple of carefully monitored locations that qualify as brownfields.

One site, for instance, holds contaminated groundwater — a problem that is being monitored to ensure that the contamination doesn’t spread. As the problems associated with this specific parcel lie below the soil, a strictly surface operation such as solar farming is an optimal use of the land.

Representatives with Maine Energy Performance Solutions have suggested installing a 0.5-megawatt solar farm to use the otherwise unusable land, but the project isn’t as small as it may sound.

“A project like this proposed solar farm would help put the Commerce Centre on the map,” Flora said. “Even at the modest size of 0.5 megawatts, it would be the largest solar installation in the state of Maine to date.”

Should more energy be required from the solar field, adjustments could be made easily to add an extra 0.5 megawatts. According to the MEPS representatives, a full 1-megawatt solar farm requires approximately 5 acres.

Though there has been some discussion among Flora, the LDA board and MEPS representatives, tangible funding and solidified plans are a work in progress. In their presentation to the board, MEPS officials estimated that the project would cost an investor $785,000, including incentives, and would yield approximately $2.6 million during the equipment’s lifetime.

“It’s easy to get investors excited about this,” MEPS representative Scott Hayes told the board.

Flora stated that he feels the solar farm could help attract businesses to the Commerce Centre, particularly to help offset the high cost of energy in the area.

“[The solar farm] could be purchased by a private owner who could either sell the power back to the grid or use it through net metering for the buildings in the complex. Because the proposed solar farm is relatively small-scale, Hayes told the board he didn’t anticipate problems in selling the energy back to the grid, particularly if the owner works directly with Maine Public Service.

Between continuing progress being made with Loring Bio Energy LLC and ongoing talks regarding wind power, it’s safe to say that the Loring Commerce Centre is looking to become a player in the alternative energy market. With multiple projects being entertained simultaneously, some members of the board questioned whether a solar farm would hinder development of other projects, particularly wind.

“We don’t see [this solar farm] as competition with wind because the two energy sources require different locations and utilize different setups,” Hayes said.

The board authorized Flora to continue discussions with MEPS representatives, particularly since there are no other land-use prospects for the limited-use parcels.

“It seems like a perfect solution,” Flora said.

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