OXFORD — A proposed solar array project is one step closer to construction, but the town will not see “energy credits,”  officials confirmed.

Dirigo Solar LLC is proposing a $8 to $9 million solar array project on nearly 40 acres of land off Route 26 near the Oxford County Regional Airport. The project hinges on approval of local, state and federal permits, an agreement with Central Maine Power to connect the solar array to the grid and the approval of a 15-year Credit Enhancement Agreement with the town of Oxford.

The latest hurdle was passed last week when the Planning Board voted unanimously at its March 7 meeting to declare the survey and site plan preliminary application complete pending approval by the Department of Environmental Protection, which is expected by the end of the month.

Dirigo Solar officials have been working with local officials for months to work out the details of a 15-year Credit Enhancement Agreement that would establish a Tax Increment Financing district. The TIF would have to be approved by voters.

While the action would benefit Oxford financially through temporary and permanent jobs, providing additional tax base, etc, it will not, as reported previously,  provide the town with “energy credits” to offset local energy costs, said Robert Cleaves of Dirigo Solar LLC.

Last week, Catharine Hartnett, manager of corporate communications, for AVANGRID (Central Maine Power is a subsidiary of AVANGRID,) incorrectly told the Advertiser Democrat that the Oxford solar array will provide “credits” to the town that they can use to offset energy costs. CMP’s only role in the project is to connect the solar array to the grid.

Hartnett said the Dirigo Solar project is not what is known as a community net metering project where towns receive credits for the number of kilowatt hours of solar energy produced and put into the grid. Under that program, energy credits are then stored and used against bills. Hartnett apologized for the confusion, saying she unknowingly passed on incorrect information about the Oxford solar array project.

Cleaves said Maine community net metering projects were largely discontinued in recent months in favor of another method called gross metering. But that program resulted in some problems and the Public Utilities Commission is now developing new rules to address  gross metering.

What the Oxford project will do, said Cleaves, is to distribute power locally. Cleaves said that people in Oxford, Norway and the area will likely be the consumers of the power the Dirigo Solar array will put in the distribution network through a contract with Central Maine Power.

But, he cautioned, that does not mean those local ratepayers are getting any special discount on their bills. The power from this project will not leave the state and the additional source of energy should financial benefit all Central Maine Power ratepayers by lowering the overall cost of energy.

“If we could sell all (the energy) to Oxford under Maine law, they would see lower bills,” said Cleaves. “In this case we sell to CMP and (the financial benefits) are distributed to all ratepayers.”

The next move, on the local level, will be a public hearing, tentatively set for April 11, followed by the Planning Board’s decision on the plan’s final site plan application approval and the addition of any conditions, if necessary.

Dirigo officials said if the company gets all the necessary permits and contracts, construction should begin in late summer or early fall.

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