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BRUNSWICK — A branch of the U.S. Department of Agriculture will provide a $1.5 million loan to help Diversified Communications finance a 1.5-megawatt solar array at Brunswick Landing.
Timothy Hobbs, state director of USDA Rural Development, announced the loan being made through its Electric Loan Program on Wednesday afternoon at the Maine Technology Institute.
“Modern infrastructure is a necessity, not an amenity, for any community to thrive, including Brunswick,” Hobbs said. “No matter what zip code you live in, infrastructure is a foundation for quality of life and economic opportunity.”
Hobbs added the Brunswick Landing solar project exemplifies the USDA’s three major priorities: infrastructure, partnership and innovation.
Portland-based Diversified Communications owns and operates the solar farm, and will sell Brunswick Landing the electricity for up to 25 years, although the business campus has the option to purchase the system after six.
The solar array, which was built by renewable energy contracting company ReVision Energy, includes 4,500 photo voltaic panels and was activated at the end of December. It is designed to provide 13.3 percent of Brunswick Landing’s annual electrical load.
Representatives from the offices of U.S. Sens. Angus King and Susan Collins, and U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree also discussed the project Wednesday.
Kate Simson, regional representative for Collins, read a statement from the senator about the solar project’s value to Brunswick and the state.
“The people of Maine have always rejected the idea of pitting the environment against the economy, because here in our state the environment is the economy,” Collins’ statement said.
The array will eliminate more than 2 million pounds of carbon dioxide emissions a year at the business campus, which has a goal of eventually using 100 percent on-site renewable energy.
When paired with an anaerobic digestion system on campus, the solar array will allow Brunswick Landing to be run by 75 percent renewable energy. Tom Brubaker, manager of public works and utilities for the Midcoast Regional Redevelopment Authority, said the digester is working at between 20 and 25 percent of its capacity.
“Between the solar array at its full capacity and the digester at about 20 to 25 percent of its full capacity, we are currently getting 30 to 40 percent of our total requirement from on-site renewable energy at present,” Brubaker said.
Hobbs said the USDA electrical loan program requires a project to be completed and “all put together,” as the solar array is now, before funding is awarded.
He added, however, the department remains in communication with the collaborators along the way to commit to the funding after the project’s completion. Hobbs also said the environmental impact of a project is a crucial consideration to the department when issuing loans.
“The federal government is not going to lend money to a project that has a disastrous environmental impact that nobody knew about until they started the work,” Hobbs said. “So we want to be safe, we’re willing to risk our money at a little bit of a different level than some of the private lenders are, but we’re not willing to risk our reputation as far as environmental (impact).”
Fortunat Mueller, co-founder of ReVision Energy, said the USDA loan is unique for several reasons.
“One (way) is long-term debt; it’s assumable debt, so when the Midcoast Regional Redevelopment Authority buys this project from Diversified in six years, MRRA can take over the loan,” Mueller said. “That’s something that doesn’t exist in the commercial banking world. For this project, it’s one of the agreements that made this project possible.”
Mueller also echoed Collins’s statement, and said though ReVision has offices around New England, Maine is a good place for such a large renewable energy effort.
He added his company is hoping to expand the Brunswick solar array in the future to eventually produce more than 13 percent of the campus’s energy load.
“In Maine the environment is the economy; people get it,” he said. “It’s not an either or thing, and that’s great for our business and it’s hopeful for the future.”
Timothy Hobbs, state director of USDA Rural Development, shakes hands with ReVision Energy co-founder Fortunant Mueller, alongside Oakley Dyer, corporate vice president of Diversified Communications, left, Tom Brubaker, right, and Ben Sturtevant, far right, both of the Midcoast Regional Redevelopment Authority. On Wednesday, Hobbs announced USDA Rural Development will issue a $1.5 million loan to Diversified Communications to help finance a solar farm at Brunswick Landing.