CARIBOU, Maine – A $7 million solar farm that went online in December in Caribou will power six large commercial customers, and is the beginning of Versant Maine Public’s foray into that type of clean energy.
The nearly 20-acre solar farm is owned by a group of investors called Caribou Solar Power LLC, which includes local businessmen Shawn Pelletier, Sam Collins, Gregg Collins, Neal Griffeth, Carl Soderberg and Jeff and Scott Irving. The 4.875-megawatt installation has 15,586 solar panels that will produce approximately 8,006,000 kilowatt hours of power.
This is the latest of several solar installations built in Aroostook County in recent months, and is in line with a statewide push to develop renewable energy projects. Gov. Janet Mills signed legislation in 2019 to boost solar, hydroelectric, biomass and wind energy projects, calling it a first major step toward reaching 80 percent renewable energy by 2030 in Maine. This solar farm is the first of eight Caribou Solar Power will build.
The energy from this solar farm will go to the New Brunswick Power Grid through Versant Maine Public District, rather than to the New England Power Grid. Versant Power is made up of Maine Public District in the north and Bangor Hydro District in the southern part of the state. The two districts are not connected, so the power generated in Aroostook County cannot go to Bangor, although recent legislation would make it possible to connect the two areas.
Companies are issued credits for consuming the power generated by the solar array.
The investors worked closely with Versant to develop the solar installation.
“We established an amazing relationship,” said Pelletier, one of the members of the investors group. “This was as new for them as it was for us and we worked extremely well together. They were extremely accommodating to work with, and to be honest, we probably couldn’t have asked for a better partner to work with.”
Planning for this project began in 2019, after Pelletier had finished building a 38-unit assisted living facility out of the old Hilltop School in Caribou. Workers had changed the heating system from a propane source to electricity, and incorporated a solar farm design to offset the increased power costs.
Seeing the benefits of the solar farm on a smaller scale, the company wanted to construct another farm on a larger scale.
Engineering work began in 2020 and full construction began on May 1, 2021. The project was considered completed on Sept. 1, but it didn’t connect to the power grid until early November.
Pelletier was able to mostly beat out the supply rush for the materials he needed to build the project. Being first in line on Versant’s priority list for construction had its advantages, including allowing builders to get materials earlier.
“Most of the materials we acquired just prior to COVID,” Pelletier said. “We do anticipate in future projects that this will be an issue, not only with securing the material, but also the cost.”
This solar farm is only the beginning for Pelletier. He has seven more solar projects heading into construction over the next couple of years. Those seven farms are estimated to produce a total of 20 megawatts, which would be the same amount of energy that at least 8,000 homes consume in one year.
“We are excited about the future of solar here in Maine,” Pelletier said. “We are looking to do more and more to participate in it as much as we can.”