Commercial solar giant mulls expanding into Maine

Published in Mainbiz

As the regulatory outlook for solar power in Maine brightens, a large national industry player is looking at doing business here, an executive told Mainebiz.

Borrego Solar Systems Inc., which is based in San Diego but has its largest office and Northeast headquarters in Lowell, Mass., is watching legislative developments in Augusta as it decides its next move.

The company is keen to come here if L.D. 1711, a comprehensive solar bill backed by the Legislature’s Energy, Technology and Utility in a 10-2 vote in late May, is passed by the Senate and House and is signed into law. 

“If the bill passes, I think we would almost immediately enter the market and begin investing,” Ilan Gutherz, Borrego Solar’s vice president of policy and strategy, said in a phone interview Tuesday.

He said that has reason to be optimistic of the bill getting passed after he and colleague Jared Connell, Borrego’s vice president of development, met with lawmakers in Augusta last week. 

Sponsored by state Sen. Dana Dow, R-Lincoln, “An Act to Promote Solar Energy Projects and Distributed Generation Resources” would make solar energy more accessible to Mainers, particularly to those with low to moderate incomes.

Related bills in recent years never made it to the finish line.

If this one does, it would create 553 full-time jobs during construction and generate an estimated hundreds of millions in local economic benefits, according  the national Coalition for Community Solar Access.

The bill is one of three related to solar seen as a priority by the Natural Resources Council of Maine. The others are a procurement bill (L.D. 1494) that cleared a Committee vote this week, and a bill (L.D 1430) governing tax fairness for investments in renewable energy

Dylan Voorhees, climate and clean energy director for the Natural Resources Council of Maine, said the new pro-solar momentum in Augussta could spark new industry growth. 

“Catching up is going to take some doing, and it’s going to take some time, but it’s very exciting,” he said. “There’s a reason to be optimistic we can accelerate and begin to get caught up” with neighbors including Massachusetts and Vermont.

Gov. Janet Mills made a similar point at a recent forum in Portland, talking about the need to create more solar jobs.

“It’s an exciting thing to do an an exciting thing to encourage,” she said.

Borrego Solar’s portfolio and intentions for Maine

Borrego Solar, which has been around since 1980 and today employs around 350 people nationwide, currently has more than 600 megawatts of utility-scale and commercial solar capacity under management. One industry ranking says it’s the country’s largest commercial solar provider.

The company’s website lists projects in California, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania and Texas.

They include the largest operational rooftop solar project in Massachusetts at the time of completion (3.9 megawatts) and one of the largest university projects in New York State (2.9 megawatts) at Ithaca College.

Ilan Gutherz, vice president of policy and strategy with Borrego Solar, spoke to Mainebiz this week about the company’s interest in expanding into Maine.

Borrego Solar’s Gutherz said that in Maine, the company would be looking to do projects of up to 5 megawatts, the cap in L.D. 1711.

“It depends a little bit on how much land is available, and how the program is structured,” he said. “We’d look to work with universities and towns and schools and other large industrial customers and partner with them to build larger-scale solar projects.”

But he emphasized that any projects would take time to plan and build, with a typical time frame of 18 to 24 months.

“You probably won’t see any ribbon-cutting from us right away, but we would start talking to landowners and large customers about their energy needs.”