This is the site of UMPI's new solar field, located to the south of the wind turbine pad on campus. Credit: Courtesy of the University of Maine at Presque Isle

PRESQUE ISLE, Maine — The University of Maine at Presque Isle is building a $1.2 million mid-sized solar array project to power the campus.

The solar installation is expected to save the university $42,000 a year on energy costs, and will produce 460,000 kilowatt-hours of of electricity annually. It is also expected to save 326 tons of carbon dioxide from being released into the atmosphere.

This is not UMPI’s first renewable energy project. In 2009, the university built a wind turbine to provide more sustainable energy to the campus. But the turbine caught fire in April 2018 and the project was discontinued. Attempts at new renewable energy have been delayed since then, due to higher than expected bids, changes in the project scope and the COVID-19 pandemic.

A condition of the insurance money received from the wind turbine fire was that it had to be used for a renewable energy project, so UMPI invested it in the solar array.

“Our experience with wind was not successful,” said UMPI Chief Business officer Betsy Sawhill Espe. “We found out that the fire was not totally unusual for wind turbines, so we wanted to look at something more reliable moving forward.”

The solar array will help offset increased energy costs on the UMPI campus. The Zillman Family Greenhouse provides fresh grown food for the university, but propane costs to keep it heated are very expensive. The solar project should help balance those expenses, Sawhill said.

LaBella Associates of Rochester, New York, has done the design work for the solar array, and UMPI hired Soderberg Construction from Caribou as the general contractor. County Electric Inc. of Caribou is the subcontractor.

The solar array will have a total 848 panels, which will be double sided in order to catch light that has been reflected off the ground as well. The panels will be split into 53 racks.

“Efficiency of solar cells has continued to increase,” UMPI President Ray Rice said. “As iconic as the turbine was, it had considerable cost associated with it. The solar project can be added onto later, and is definitely more manageable with maintenance.”

The project is expected to be completed by the end of the year. Help from Versant Power will allow the solar array to be connected to the campus grid. The solar installation is located just south of the wind turbine pad.

UMPI continues the trend of solar projects being constructed in the city, following the announcement in January about two  solar farms planned for Skyway Industrial Park near Presque Isle International Airport.

Correction: A previous version of this article reflected the incorrect kilowatt unit that the solar array will produce.

David DiMinno

David grew up in New York, and moved to Maine to study political science at the University of Maine. In his spare time, he loves hiking, playing tennis and skiing.