PORTLAND, Maine — Regulators on Tuesday directed Maine’s two major utilities to work out 20-year contracts to purchase power from four “community-based” renewable energy projects located throughout the state as part of a pilot program approved by the Legislature in 2009.

The long-term deals include a 9.9-megawatt solar project in the Waldo County town of Monroe, which would be the state’s largest solar project to date, by far, if built.

The order from the Maine Public Utilities Commission directs Central Maine Power Co. to negotiate contracts with Clear Energy LLC and Cianbro Development Corp. for the Monroe solar farm, at a rate of 8.45 cents per kilowatt-hour.

It also directs CMP to negotiate with Georges River Energy LLC for a 7.5-megawatt biomass plant on the grounds of the Robbins Lumber mill in Searsmont and a dual project by Mayo Mill LLC for a 310-kilowatt hydroelectric plant and 85-kilowatt solar array in Dover-Foxcroft, at 9.9 cents per kilowatt-hour and 10 cents per kilowatt-hour, respectively.

The commission directed Emera Maine to enter a contract with Shamrock Partners LLC for power from a 1-megawatt wind installation in Limestone, at 8.3 cents per kilowatt-hour.

Shamrock Partners, led by Freeport resident Sue Jones, had proposed a community wind project in Fort Fairfield that had won a long-term contract under an earlier request for proposals from the PUC. But that plan was essentially killed, she said this fall, by an ordinance establishing for wind projects a one-mile setback from landowners not involved in the project.

The PUC in September announced it would approve contracts with projects that, together, promise as much as 21 megawatts of generation capacity. The commission voted unanimously Tuesday to approve long-term deals for the four selected projects, out of a field of projects offering up about 80 megawatts of capacity.

It had previously approved similar contracts for Jonesport Wind, Lubec Wind and Pisgah Mountain LLC, in Clifton.

The commission’s three members in their meeting Tuesday said they approved the contracts for the pilot program because they represented various energy sources and locations around the state, despite offering a price that’s above the standard offer rate for electricity.

Under an amendment this year, the state law creating the community-based renewables pilot program allowed projects to qualify if they offered prices of 10 cents per kilowatt-hour or less within each contract year. They are also required to be owned by residents or entities based in Maine, including on tribal land.

The commission’s written order issued Tuesday afternoon was the first disclosure of the corporations behind each renewable project and did not include more detailed information about the exact project locations or timelines.

The PUC through its request for proposals sought projects that could be completed within three years. Regulators said they would issue a later order providing more detail on their reasoning for selecting each project.

The Monroe solar array would be larger than the 1.2-megawatt solar farm at Bowdoin College and larger still than other solar projects proposed around the state, including developer Kim Kenway’s proposal in April for a 2.8-megawatt solar farm in Gouldsboro and, according to the Portland Press Herald, proposals for 10- to 20-megawatt solar arrays in Winslow and Sanford by the Yarmouth-based company Ranger Solar.

The Monroe project is a partnership between Cianbro and Clear Energy, owned by Evan Coleman. Coleman was also involved through Clear Energy in Energy Management Inc.’s bid for a natural gas power plant in Rockland.

The decision Tuesday is the PUC’s latest move toward grid-scale solar power. Regulators previously approved a term sheet with Dirigo Solar to develop contracts with utilities for up to 75 megawatts of solar capacity at locations around the state.

The PUC’s approval calls for the term sheet to expire in one year. The term sheet approved offers with starting prices of about 3.5 cents per megawatt hour, with annual 2.5 percent increases, for a 20-year term, with various options for how much of the total 75 megawatts would be developed.

Darren Fishell

Darren is a Portland-based reporter for the Bangor Daily News writing about the Maine economy and business. He's interested in putting economic data in context and finding the stories behind the numbers.