A new solar farm is slated to be built on 19 acres of land at Dewitt Field in Old Town. Credit: Sawyer Loftus / BDN

An $11 million solar farm in Old Town will seek out municipalities, school districts and businesses to provide off-setting credits on power bills instead of residential customers, breaking away from many of the programs in the Bangor area.

The project, called Dewitt Solar, will be housed at Dewitt Field and the company behind the project will pay the city $25,000 a year for leasing the land, over the life cycle of the farm, City Manager Bill Mayo said.

Old Town could get half a million dollars over its projected 20-year lifespan.

The farm will not generate electricity that will be directly used by those who sign up, but it will provide energy to the Versant Power system and customers would be taking advantage of Maine’s net energy billing program.

The program allows customers to offset their bills through credits that are generated by projects like the one in Old Town, according to the Maine Public Utilities Commission.  

The Bangor region has seen an influx of solar project proposals over the last several years. At least 78 developers in Penobscot County have requested to be connected to the power grid  since Gov. Janet Mills signed an expansion of the state’s net energy billing program into law in 2019, according to the two Maine electric utilities.

In June, the Legislature passed a law requiring developers to obtain approval from the Maine Department of Environmental Protection for all projects that are 3 or more acres, and show plans and funding for decommissioning panels.

The law went into effect Oct. 18, and applies to projects for which construction started or ownership changed after Oct. 1. Old Town already has a permit from the environmental department that was amended so that the solar farm can move forward, according to Michael Atkinson, the project developer.

The Old Town project was developed by New York City-based Syncarpha Capital and Acadia Solar. It will be owned and operated by Syncarpha Capital and Pacolet Milliken, an investment company, according to Atkinson.

 

The net energy program in Maine only allows projects to be either residential or commercial, which is why this project differs from Syncarpha’s other solar projects in Maine that are residential — or community — solar projects, he said.

So far, the city of Old Town, the water district, Regional School Unit 34 and Old Town Canoe have all signed on, Mayo said.

In May, Syncarpha initially announced that it had reached a deal with the city to lease the land, but as the farm comes closer to fruition, Mayo said any chance to use renewable energy is worth taking.

At the same time, the city will be able to make money off the project, too, he said.

“That really started in a different manner because that area of the airport where it is going can’t really be used for any other type of development,” Mayo said. “The airport is an enterprise account; it kind of stands alone by itself. We’re always looking at ways to try to generate revenue for that.”

Developers hope the project will be up and running by early 2022, depending on how winter goes in Maine.

Sawyer Loftus

Sawyer Loftus is a reporter covering Old Town, Orono and the surrounding areas. A recent graduate of the University of Vermont, Sawyer grew up in Vermont where he's worked for Vermont Public Radio, The...