Maine’s largest solar farm in Madison – many more predicted to come

Madison Electric Works' massive solar array in the Madison Business Gateway Park works well in the winter - in all seasons as the sun shines in Maine as much as it does in Fla.. Photo by Ramona du Houx

by Ramona du Houx

A solar farm in Madison is the largest in the Maine, occupying 22 acres with about 26,000 solar panels majestically placed on the property.

The array looks like ocean waves locked into place as the sun beats down on them. In the winter snow, sleet or ice melts off as the panels drink up the sunrays. The facility has been in full operation since the beginning of January 2017.

“Everything is working great,” said Calvin Ames, Superintendent of Madison Electric Works, (MEW) a publicly owned utility, serving electric customers in Madison, Starks, Anson and Norridgewock, as well as Madison Business Gateway and Backyard Farms. “The solar farm is definitely the biggest one in Maine.”

According to Ames, on a sunny day, the farm will meet the needs of “100 percent” of the utility’s customers — about 3,000 homes and small businesses, excluding Backyard Farms, a greenhouse tomato grower that uses an a lot amount of electricity.

The Madison Business Gateway solar farm is more than twice the size of any other in Maine, produces about five megawatts, and was constructed by ISG Energy over the 2016 summer and fall.

ISG paid for the construction, which cost about $10 million, and mostly used Maine workers to build the facility. MEW is the recipient of all the power.

Ames said the farm is “risk free,” as MEW is only purchasing the kilowatts produced.

Madison Electric Works' massive solar array in the Madison Business Gateway Park. Photo by Ramona du Houx

Madison Electric Works signed a 26-year agreement to purchase all the electricity produced at a fixed rate of 7.99 cents per kilowatt. After six years the utility will have the right to purchase the farm at an estimated cost of about $6 million but MEW is under no obligation to buy the farm if the savings aren’t what the utility expects.

When the 26-year agreement is up, ISG will either give them the farm or take it away.

The federal government still has rebates on offer for solar arrays. But Maine, under the LePage administration has moved the other way.

During the last legislative session in 2016 a proposed law was projected to have the ability to create 800-1,000 new jobs in the state without any costs to Maine’s taxpayers and ratepayers. The bill represented jobs for blue color workers in need all over the state — especially in the 2nd district. But Governor Paul LePage was against the measure, and his Republican lawmakers backed his decision not to pass the bill.

"At a time when Maine's economy desperately needs jobs, we should be embracing and supporting Maine businesses, not trying to run them out of business,” said Vaughan Woodruff, owner of Insource Renewables of Pittsfield, chair of MABEP’s Committee on Renewable Energy (CORE) at a press conference in 2016 promoting the passage of the legislation. “Instead of removing barriers to ensure fair treatment of ratepayers, solar power generators, and utility monopolies, the actions of the governor and his supporters threaten to kill our industry. If legislators can move past the governor's rhetoric to support a bipartisan agreement to benefit ratepayers and Maine's economy, the additional jobs across Maine would be enough to fill several mills."

Despite the inability of the LePage administration to understand the cost benefits to businesses and job creation of additional solar power arrays towns, businesses and educational institutions have gone forward to put up their own solar power facilities. And more are planed. Businesses and people understand the bottom line means savings.

The Madison solar farm is one of many community, business and educational institutional projects being implemented across the state.

These are some of the current solar energy farms and projected projects:

  • Bowdoin College has the second largest, 1.2-megawatt solar power, complex in Brunswick.
  • Thomas College used to have the largest solar array made up of almost 700 solar panels on the Alfond Athletic Center, installed by ReVision Energy.
  • The town of Freeport has a community solar project helping residents save. Community solar is becoming more popular.
  • Good Will Hinckley installed solar panels and is teaching alternative energy technologies to their students.
  • Colby College is currently building a 1.9 megawatt installation with 5,505 solar panels on Washington Street.
  • A plan to erect a 50-megawatt solar farm at the Sanford municipal airport is moving forward.
  • And Yarmouth-based Ranger Solar wants to construct renewable energy projects in Clinton and Fairfield. 

There are other plans for installations all across the state, as an installer said, “You can’t turn off the sun. It’s going to be there everyday.”

Madison Electric Works' massive solar array in the Madison Business Gateway Park. Photo by Ramona du Houx