Following the lead of several other Maine towns and cities, Ellsworth is looking into working with a solar developer to build a solar energy farm on city-owned land that would produce power for the city.
Gary Fortier, a longtime member of the City Council who is not seeking re-election to his seat on Nov. 5, said he and other city officials have been talking to solar developers about building a solar energy facility on city-owned land. One site that would make a good candidate, he said, is the city’s 24-acre former dump on Stabawl Road.
The city is open to other sites, said Ellsworth City Manager David Cole, and it has not made up its mind about what kind of project it wants to pursue. It is unlikely, however, that the city would look to develop its own project. It would more likely lease land to a developer and then sign a power purchase agreement to buy electricity that the developer generates at that site.
“We are working on a request for qualifications,” Cole said, adding that the responses the city receives from developers will help the city narrow down its options. “We’re hoping to have it out shortly.”
The goal, Cole said, is to reduce the city’s electricity bill by paying a lower rate in exchange for providing land where a solar array would be installed.
A change in state law that passed in June, which is aimed at making small-scale renewable power installations more financially viable, is the main reason why the city is considering a solar project, Cole said. And there has been interest from solar developers in serving the Ellsworth area.
“We’ve gotten a lot of calls” from interested solar firms, Cole said.
Fortier acknowledged that other municipalities in Maine have acted sooner to partner with private companies to develop solar farms that can produce electricity. Ellsworth has been waiting, in part, to see how other projects work out, he said.
“We are working on it,” Fortier said. “We’re just working on it slower than some [other towns].”
Solar power development in Maine has been on the rise in recent years among individual homeowners, businesses, municipalities and other public entities looking to boost the availability of renewable energy sources and to reduce their long-term electricity costs.
This past summer, a Searsport firm installed 1,450 panels on the roof of MDI High School in Bar Harbor and, at the Cranberry Isles Fishing Co-op on Little Cranberry Island approximately 150 panels on the roofs of buildings on the pier. Last year, around 500 panels were installed in Tremont in late 2018 at a former landfill as part of a municipal project in that MDI town.
In February, the Maine Public Utilities Commission approved a power-purchase project for Three Rivers Solar, a yet-to-be developed 100-megawatt solar farm planned for Township 16 in northeastern Hancock County.