MRRA: Solar array far from a done deal at Brunswick Landing

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BRUNSWICK — A Washington, Maine-based solar energy company is proposing to build a solar panel array at Brunswick Landing.

Chief Executive Officer Rich Simon said The Power Co. is hoping to sign a lease with the Midcoast Regional Redevelopment Authority before the end of the year for a 50-kW ground-mounted array of solar panels.

“This fits into mutual goals between what we want in the solar industry and what MRRA’s looking for,” Simon said.

But Tom Brubaker, MRRA’s clean technology manager, said The Power Co.’s latest proposal is different than the company’s initial plan, proposed last year, that called for a 1-MW array. He said MRRA would have to see a revised business plan detailing financing and engineering for the project before going forward.

“We haven’t identified a parcel of land yet,” he said. “The project isn’t ready for prime time.”

Simon said he wanted to publicize the project, even though the negotiations haven’t been finalized.

“We feel like we’ve been working towards this for quite a while,” he said. “We need to build interest in the project.”

Simon said although the company will likely begin with only 50 kW, he would like to lease an area big enough for the 1 MW or larger project.

By starting small, Simon said he hopes to demonstrate the viability of a solar array to potential investors and to the public. Thus far, The Power Co. has been unable to find financing for the project, and he said the company will pay the approximately $200,000 start-up cost out of pocket.

Simon acknowledged that solar energy is now more expensive than electricity generated from other sources, but he said the cost has come down along with the cost of the equipment.

But the cost of solar power, which Brubaker estimated at between 20 and 24 cents per kW, is still too high for MRRA, which spends about 10 cents less per kW on electricity purchased from CMP that it distributes to its tenants.

If a Brunswick Landing tenants were interested in paying a premium on solar electricity, however, Brubaker said MRRA would consider buying it.

Until then, Simon said the solar array would send its electricity back to the grid.

Brunswick Landing isn’t the first former military base that The Power Co. has attempted to use for a solar energy project.

Last spring, the company began discussions with the Loring Development Authority, which manages the former Loring Air Force Base in Limestone, for a similar installation.

Carl Flora, chief executive officer of LDA, said The Power Co. initially proposed a 500 kW project that will likely be scaled back because of difficulty securing funding through the federal New Markets Tax Credit program.

Despite the setback, Flora said he was impressed by the company.

“I think they knew what they were doing,” he said. “They came up and scoped out the Loring property, but engaged in a dialog with the local utility and began working out the technical issues.”

Although Brubaker was caught off guard when The Power Co. issued a press release last week announcing its preliminary plans to build at Brunswick Landing, he said the project still could happen.

“We may still, at the end of the day, do a project with The Power Co.,” he said. “They have to come in and show us they have the financial capacity to do it.”

Emily Guerin can be reached at 781-3661 ext.123 or eguerin@theforecaster.net. Follow her on Twitter: @guerinemily.

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