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Solar energy alone powered about 11,000 Fort Kent homes and businesses for a brief period last week

Electricians Zach Newton and Bryan Driscoll consult a wiring schematic while installing solar panels at the 38-acre BNRG/Dirigo solar farm, Thursday, Jan. 14, 2021, in Oxford, Maine.
Robert F. Bukaty
/
AP file
Electricians Zach Newton and Bryan Driscoll consult a wiring schematic while installing solar panels at the 38-acre BNRG/Dirigo solar farm, Thursday, Jan. 14, 2021, in Oxford, Maine.

For about 12 hours total last week, about 11,400 homes and businesses in the Fort Kent region were powered entirely by solar energy.

This occurred over a four-hour period last Wednesday afternoon and twice more on the following days.

Versant Power spokesperson Judy Long said this is a first for the utility, and it may be among the first instances in Maine where a region has operated for a period of time using only solar energy.

Northern Maine has become a hotbed for solar development, Long said.

"The cost of land up there is attractive," she said. "We have areas where farmland may no longer be used, and so that obviously is a good site for solar that's looking for wide open spaces of land, land that's not totally expensive, land that may not be as restrictive in terms of what may be done with it. So we have seen a great deal of demand in our Maine Public district for interconnection."

The graph shows the total net load in the Fort Kent area in kilowatts. Each line represents one day, with 24 hours shown across the horizontal axis. Negative values indicate that local power needs are met entirely from local solar facilities, with excess energy sent into Canada.
The graph shows the total net load in the Fort Kent area in kilowatts. Each line represents one day, with 24 hours shown across the horizontal axis. Negative values indicate that local power needs are met entirely from local solar facilities, with excess energy sent into Canada.

The utility expects there will be more days in the future where the Fort Kent region is powered entirely by solar energy, particularly when temperatures are mild and demand for heating or air conditioning is low.

"Spring particularly is good for solar production as we understand, because the panels do the most work when it's neither super hot nor very, very cold," Long said.

Across Versant's service area, developers have made about 1,780 interconnection requests and added 140 megawatts of solar energy to the grid. Long said the utility is working to expand its capacity for solar. In northern Maine alone, there are enough outstanding interconnection requests where solar energy could provide twice the amount of electricity needed in the region during peak demand days, Long said.