FILE - Maine Power Lines

Central Maine Power utility lines are seen, Wednesday, Oct. 6, 2021, in Pownal, Maine. 

(The Center Square) – Central Maine Power, the state's largest utility, has reached an agreement with solar power companies over the expansion of the industry in the state. 

The settlement includes a commitment from the utility company to spend $700,000 over the next two years to add more clean energy in the regional electric grid.

In a statement, the company said the settlement with solar power operators, if approved by state regulators, will help improve the deployment of more renewable energy.

“In order to reach Maine’s clean energy goals, we must have a firm and forward-looking commitment from developers, regulators, policymakers and utilities to work together to address challenges and find solutions," Joe Purington, the utility's president and CEO, said in a statement. "We have made great strides to date, and this settlement was an opportunity to ensure momentum by providing a framework to help us work more collaboratively and effectively."

Money from the settlement will help pay for the hiring of more employees and contractors to speed up the connection of solar farms to the power grid. The company's statement said it has already hired more than 100 people to support the effort. 

Maine has set aggressive goals to get more power from the sun and wind in coming years as it seeks to diversify its energy portfolio and reduce greenhouse gas emissions. 

In 2020, about 80% of Maine's electricity net generation came from renewable energy resources, with hydroelectric power providing the largest share at 34%, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration.

Clean power groups, such as Maine Renewable Energy Association and the Coalition for Solar Access, had complained that CMP was throttling the expansion of solar power in the state by delaying the process of hooking up solar farms to its substations and requiring solar operators to pay for last-minute, multimillion dollar upgrades. 

Gov. Janet Mills asked state utility regulators to open an investigation into the solar interconnectivity issues following CMP's announcement early last year that it had underestimated the cost of infrastructure upgrades needed to connect about 18 solar projects to the grid.

Investigators are seeking to determine "the best way to accommodate increasing amounts of renewable energy, including solar installations and energy storage, and substantial load growth with increasing electrification of the heating and transportation sectors," according to a statement by the agency. 

The proposed deal between CMP and the solar industry now heads to the state Public Utilities Commission, which must decide whether to accept the terms of the agreement.