From MaineBiz Magazine

October 21, 2016

By James McCarthy

Sanford City Council on Tuesday approved an updated lease agreement for 390 acres of city-owned property at Sanford-Seacoast Regional Airport on which Ranger Solar of Yarmouth plans to develop a utility-scale solar project that would be one of the largest in Maine and one of only 25 similar solar projects at airports in the United States.

The Sanford project, which will be built in phases, is expected to provide up to 50 megawatts of energy and enough electricity to power up to 20,000 homes. Phase 1 is slated to begin in late 2017 at the earliest and when completed will provide between $60 million and $80 million of new taxable property. It will create approximately 94 construction jobs and up 10 full-time positions, according to Aaron Svedlow, director of environmental permitting for Ranger Solar.

“The cost of solar is really dropping dramatically, to the point where it is competitive not only with all forms of renewable energy but also with traditional sources of energy,” Svedlow told Mainebiz in a telephone interview Friday morning.

With the Pilgrim nuclear power plant in Plymouth, Mass., scheduled to close in 2019 — coupled with recent or planned closures of several older oil- or coal-fired plants in Massachusetts — Svedlow says there is a pressing need for additional power in the region, especially from renewable energy sources that enable the New England states to achieve ambitious clean energy goals.

“We think solar is the best source of that renewable clean energy,” he said. “The environmental and permitting issues are not as great as they are with some of the other renewable energy sources.”

Svedlow said the Sanford solar project is about half the size of the 100MW solar project the company announced earlier this month for the Loring Commerce Centre business park in Limestone. The Limestone project calls for 100,000 solar panels, which would sit on 600 acres of land at the former Loring Air Force Base and is expected to provide enough electricity to power between 20,000 and 30,000 homes.

Private-public partnership with Sanford

Sanford City Manager Steven Buck told Mainebiz in a telephone interview Ranger Solar’s project will provide significant economic benefits to Sanford taxpayers, including new tax revenues estimated at $2 million per year when the project is completed. It also creates the potential for using tax increment financing with associated power purchase agreements that he said could lower energy costs to spur local business growth and attraction.

“We’ve been working four years on this,” Buck said, explaining that the city’s 2014 update of the airport’s master plan was a key milestone that advanced the project from the concept stage to its present status of seeking environmental permits and regulatory approval. The master plan accepted by the Federal Aviation Administration and the Maine Department of Transportation identified the land leased to Ranger Solar as suitable for “non-aeronautical development,” he said.

“It will become a profit center for the airport,” Buck said, noting that Ranger Solar’s lease calls for a $273,000 yearly payment to the airport for the first five years, increasing every five years after that. “The airport will no longer need property tax support to cover its operating expenses.”

A term sheet for the project identifies another benefit to the airport: “As part of the lease agreement, Ranger Solar will fence the airport, allowing the airport to maintain a high level of safety and security.”

Svedlow said when the Sanford project is completed it will be “larger than most [utility scale] airport solar projects in the United States.”