CLIFTON – The Maine Public Utilities Commission (PUC) approved contracts for 17 renewable power projects on Sept. 22, including a 20-megawatt (MW) wind farm known as Silver Maple Wind in Clifton and a 100-MW solar project in Hancock known as Three Rivers Solar.
The PUC approved a contract for SWEB Development’s Silver Maple Wind that includes two options: one where the company sells the electricity it generates for $34.30 per megawatt hour (MWh), increasing by 2 percent each year, and a second where it sells it at a fixed price, for $40.18 per MWh. The commission will have the final say on the price.
For Swift Current’s Three Rivers Solar project, the contract price is set at $42 per MWh, increasing by 2 percent each year. The average realtime price for wholesale power in New England, a rate typically set by natural gas-fired power plants, was $30.67 per MWh last year, according to ISO New England.
One megawatt is equal to 1,000 kilowatts. Adding “hour” to the end of either word is a measurement of electricity generated over time: A megawatt hour, for instance, is the amount of electricity generated by a 1-megawatt electric generator that is operating for one hour.
Silver Maple, according to contract documents, has estimated it will be able to provide roughly 68,596 MWh of electricity each year. Three Rivers Solar has said it will be able to deliver around 157,888 MWh, minus a “degradation factor” of 0.43 percent (or roughly 678 MWh) annually. (Solar panels can produce electricity for decades, but produce less and less as they age, a process called degradation.) “The first-year prices for energy from the new projects receiving an award are very competitive, ranging between 2.9 to 4.2 cents per [kilowatt hour],” said Commission Chairman Philip L. Bartlett II. “Additionally, these projects are expected to provide substantial benefits to the Maine economy by creating jobs and making significant local investments.”
Most of the other contracts approved by the PUC were for solar farms, with Silver Maple Wind the lone wind power project. Three Rivers Solar was by far the largest solar project in the state to receive approval. A hydroelectric and biomass project were also on the list.
The projects have a total generating capacity of 492 MW.
State officials set off a rush among developers after enacting a law last year requiring the state to increase the percentage of renewable energy in its portfolio to 80 percent of electricity sales by 2030 and 100 percent by 2050.
“Today’s announcement is a historic step forward in Maine’s effort to embrace renewable energy, create good-paying green-collar jobs, diversify and expand our economy and combat the threat of climate change,” said Governor Janet Mills in a statement after the PUC announcement. “This progress, which is the direct result of bipartisan energy legislation I signed last year, further establishes Maine as a national clean energy leader.”
The electricity generated by both Silver Maple and Three Rivers will be sold to Versant, formerly Emera Maine, which was recently bought by ENMAX Corp. of Canada.
The PUC, which regulates all of the state’s electric, telephone, water and gas utilities, evaluated the projects on a number of factors, including whether they were able to offer competitive electricity rates to customers as well as how many jobs and benefits they would create for their host communities.
The companies will enter into 20-year contracts with Versant that will be reviewed annually by the commission, according to the PUC, “To ensure they are achieving the economic benefits. In the event a project does not meet its committed benefits, the contract price may be adjusted downward.”
The contract terms for Silver Maple Wind, for instance, require that the company spend “no less than $15,311,546 in initial capital investments from Maine-based suppliers or contractors, of which at least $10,118,810 will be for capital investments other than the purchase of equipment” during the pre-construction and construction phases of the project.
For Three Rivers Solar, the contract requires that the company spend “no less than $23,400,000 in initial capital investments from Maine-based suppliers or contractors, of which no less than $23,400,000 will be for capital investments other than the purchase of equipment” during the pre-construction and construction phases of the project.
Once completed, the Three Rivers Solar farm, a 100-MW facility on a 1,115-acre plot in Township 16, is expected to be the largest in the state.
The project will be built on 465 acres, with between 300,000 and 400,000 panels. The PUC approved the project last year.
Silver Maple Wind, a fiveturbine, $44-million wind project, would double the number of turbines and triple the energy potential of the existing five-turbine Pisgah Mountain Wind project in Clifton.
That project is still undergoing state review by the Maine Department of Environmental Protection (DEP).