AUGUSTA, Maine — Just a few years ago, it was a little-used field on the edge of Augusta. Now, it's a power plant.
Augusta Solar spreads out along busy Route 3 east of the city, a relatively large, utility-scale solar energy project. According to the project website, it's generating roughly nine megawatts of electricity and was $9 million to build.
Augusta Solar is one result of a decision by the Maine Legislature to order the Public Utilities Commission to expand the number of renewable energy projects in the state.
Now, the Legislature is being asked to do it again.
"There are no silver bullets with energy policy, but we know this is a tried and true approach to bring more grid-scale renewables online," Jeremy Payne said at a Tuesday press conference outside the State House.
Payne is director of the Maine Renewable Energy Association and a vocal advocate for expanding the number of wind and solar projects around the state. He joined environmental groups and the Associated General Contractors to push lawmakers to pass LD 1350, which would direct the Public Utilities Commission to solicit new proposals for building more grid-scale solar and wind projects.
Payne said the initial solicitation from the PUC several years ago resulted in 800 megawatts of projects being approved, some of which have been built and are online.
"The average price of projects is 3.5 cents per kilowatt-hour, which is well below today's standard offer rate and clearly beneficial to Maine ratepayers," Payne said.
The new solicitation would be smaller than the earlier one, but Payne and others said the state needs more renewable energy.
"Growing Maine's supply of affordable and renewable clean energy is the backbone of our climate action plan," Jack Shapiro of the Natural Resources Council of Maine said.
Sen. Mark Lawrence, D-York, co-chair of the Legislature's Energy, Utilities and Technology Committee, said he supports the bill because there need to be alternatives to the current energy situation.
"Look at what's going on with energy in this country. The price of natural gas, what's going on in Ukraine, we need to continue to get more renewables, so we have a more stable source of energy," Lawrence said.
Lawmakers indicated there is bipartisan support for the bill in the Legislature, which is expected to come up for votes in the next few days.
Supporters say there would also be benefits for farmers whose fields have been contaminated by PFAS chemicals. It provides an incentive for the PUC to consider projects built on PFAS contaminated land as it reviews the various proposals for their economic benefit.