$190 million solar project proposed in Unity Township, Benton and Clinton
- Jul 2, 2020 12:30 pm GMT
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Jul. 2--A Boston-based renewable energy company has announced plans to build a $190 million solar project on land in Unity Township, Benton and Clinton.
The Three Corners Solar Project, developed by Longroad Energy, would cover 700 acres featuring ground mounted single axis solar panels that track the sun during the day to produce energy.
The project has been in the works since 2017. If it's approved by the Maine Public Utilities Commission and the Maine Department of Environmental Protection, construction will begin in 2021 and operations will begin in 2022, according to Matt Kearns, chief development officer for Longroad.
"We signed our initial land agreements in 2017 or 2018, so we've been at it for a while," Kearns said during a June 25 phone call. "We think it's important during this time ... it's a major clean energy project which will result in clean affordable energy for Mainers."
The 109 megawatt project is projected to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by approximately 140,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide over the course of 20 years, Kearns said.
"It's a big project. It'll generate enough electricity to power around 10,000 to 20,000 homes, depending on how you calculate it per year," Kearns said. "And it's a really large project compared to other solar projects that are being developed in Maine and a big one by New England standards as well."
Longroad recently submitted a bid to sell the energy from Three Corners to Central Maine Power.
The project will be located on land owned by the Bessey Development Co., a family-owned wood brokerage business based out of Hinckley.
Ethan Bessey, president of both Bessey Development and its sister company, E.D.B. & Son, has worked with Kearns in the past. In 2014, Bessey and Kearns worked on the Bingham Wind Project, a 56 turbine wind farm proposed for land owned by Bessey Development.
Bessey said the beginning of his and Kearns' working relationship came at a time when his company was looking to expand its efforts on sustainability.
"In 2015 the pulp and paper industry in Maine was devastated by a series of mill closures and the sudden loss of wood markets," Bessey said in an email. "At the same time, there was a growing interest in developing clean energy projects in the state. As landowners who have sustainably managed our timberland for generations, we wanted to explore alternative ways to use the land other than just growing timber."
The Besseys' land in Unity Township, Benton and Clinton was a natural fit for Longroad's project due to its close proximity to the Albion Road substation in Benton, Kearns said.
"The generator lead, which is the high voltage transmission line that goes from the project, is about six miles over from the Albion CMP substation," Kearns said.
The project will not be visible from any public viewpoints, Kearns said, and the Besseys' commercial timber production will not be disrupted by the addition of the solar project.
Bessey said that the Three Corners Project will benefit all involved.
"The team at Longroad presented a great project that will bring clean, renewable energy to Maine and benefit our local communities directly for years to come," Bessey said. "It really is a 'win' for everyone."
Project developers are expected to spend around $2 million in development costs, all of which will benefit Maine-based businesses. The total amount of purchases during the construction phase is estimated at $20 million, which includes expenditures on employee lodging, meals, related services, equipment and vehicle maintenance and fuel expenditures. All of which Kearns said will pump revenue into the local and state economies.
To further help the communities where the project will be built, Longroad has committed to donating $5,000 a year in community and charitable contributions for the first 20 years of the project.
"The causes can range from support of school sports teams to education and other local community efforts to be determined by the local operations team," Kearns said in an email on Tuesday.
Construction of the project will create around 125 jobs.
"That's one of the key elements of the project. We would be hiring about 125 people during the construction part of the project," Kearns said. "We're going to need a lot of electricians, a lot of laborers."
The state and the host communities of Unity Township, Clinton and Benton will also garner property taxes from the project expected to total $10 million over the course of 20 years.
The Three Corners Project has struck a partnership with Unity College. Longroad has pledged to provide the school $10,000 per year for the first 10 years of the project's operation.
"We got partnered up with Unity and we're really excited to offer them sort of like a working class room for sustainability and clean energy," Kearns said. "We have signed memorandum describing the relationship between the college and the project so we will be working with them to offer opportunities to faculty and students supporting their curriculum on climate, sustainability and clean energy. ... They're close by. They're great environmental leaders. So we thought they would be just a natural partner and their proximity just made sense."
Kearns said he hopes that Unity might be able to provide food service and housing during the construction portion of the project.
Unity College President Dr. Melik Peter Khoury said in a prepared statement: "Being part of such a high-profile solar project like this will not only give students real-world experience with one of the most important sustainability developments of the future, it will also open doors and give them insight into what their career paths might look like."
If the Three Corners Project is approved, Longroad will make a one-time donation of $25,000 to the Sebasticook Regional Land Trust to support the organization's conservation projects.
"We're really excited about this project," Kearns said. "We're hopeful that we're successful there so we can deliver low cost, affordable, clean energy to Maine and at the same time put a bunch of people to work."
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