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UMPI installing $1.2 million solar field

A new alternative energy project is underway at the University of Maine at Presque Isle—a $1.2 million “middle sized” solar array field that is estimated to save the campus about $42,000 in electricity costs per year and generate about 460,000 kWh of electricity annually.

“We are incredibly excited to be establishing this 848-module solar array on the southern end of our campus,” UMPI President Ray Rice said. “Sustainability and reducing our carbon footprint have long been priorities for us, so having this new system in place, and complementing our other renewable energy endeavors, is an excellent step forward.”

The 377kW field includes 53 racks comprising 848 individual modules. A unique aspect of these modules is that they are bi-facial panels, which means the back sides of the panels capture reflected sunlight from the ground, which averages about an 8% overall increase in energy.

LaBella Associates of Rochester, NY completed the design work on the project and Soderberg Construction of Caribou is serving as the general contractor. County Electric Inc. of Caribou is a subcontractor.

This new project comes after long consideration about the best alternative energy project to pursue following a fire that occurred in UMPI’s wind turbine in April 2018 due to a mechanical failure. While UMPI officials had hoped to move the project forward sooner than 2021, several barriers were encountered, including higher than expected initial bids, a subsequent change in project scope, and a global pandemic.  A stipulation of the insurance claim due to the extended time frame was that, in order to receive all funds, they would need to be incorporated into this solar project, allowing for an increase to the size of the solar array.

“This project has been a long time in coming and now that it’s underway, things are moving very quickly,” Betsy Sawhill Espe, UMPI Chief Business Officer, said. “The panels and structure for the panels are on site, installation work is underway, and we expect the solar field will be up and running by the end of the year. We’re especially pleased that this project doesn’t require us to spend from our current budget or borrow, as the insurance payment is funding the entire effort.”

The solar field will be located just south of the wind turbine pad and, with the help of Versant Power, will connect to the campus grid. With most prep work already finished, project officials expect to be able to test the system and then connect almost immediately upon installation completion. UMPI’s new solar array is expected to save an estimated 326 tons of carbon dioxide from being released into the atmosphere each year, or the equivalent of removing 71 cars from the road.

UMPI officials have worked closely with the campus Green Committee throughout the project.

“Solar is a low-maintenance, scalable, and educational option that will benefit the entire university community,” UMPI Green Committee Chair Dr. Larry Feinstein said. “The Green Committee appreciates UMPI’s proactive approach toward implementing such sustainable practices and hopes it can help to inform future efforts here on campus, in the community, and beyond.”