Planning Board Chairwoman Mary Alice Hurvitt reads a statement explaining why the board voted to reject a 16-acre solar farm proposed for South Street during the board’s June 1 meeting at the town office. ELLSWORTH AMERICAN PHOTO BY JENNIFER OSBORN

Blue Hill Planning Board rejects proposed 16-acre solar farm

BLUE HILL — The Blue Hill Planning Board June 1 rejected a proposal for the construction of a 16-acre solar farm on South Street. The decision came after 90 minutes of listening to neighbors raise concerns about the project as well as the developer, SolAmerica Energy.

The project is not a permitted use within the town of Blue Hill, said Planning Board Chairwoman Mary Alice Hurvitt. The proposed size is one issue. Blue Hill’s current Commercial Site Plan Review Ordinance doesn’t permit any solar developments over 2 acres in size. SolAmerica’s proposal is 16 acres.

“The current ordinance restriction was written in response to proposed large-scale solar farm use,” Hurvitt said. The thinking of the town was that allowing a large solar farm wouldn’t be fair to the next resident or business who wanted to create a solar project because he or she or the business would have to undertake the expense of upgrading the transmission line, she said.

The board voted immediately to decline to determine any findings with regards to the application’s completeness. There was no discussion among board members.

“We were told we needed to come up with a review decision,” Hurvitt told those assembled. “It was recommended I go ahead and write that decision up.”

The project would have been built on a parcel belonging to Marty Hester and his wife near the Maine Coast Veterinary Hospital.

Why hear the project to begin with if a rejection was definitely on tap?

Hurvitt explained that SolAmerica requested to be heard to receive a “formal denial.”

During the hearing, Matt Short, SolAmerica’s senior vice president, spoke about the project’s benefits.

“The project will generate enough power to serve about 400 homes in the Blue Hill area,” Short said. The 2-megawatt solar facility would result in reduced power rates for roughly a third of the homes and businesses in Blue Hill with an average annual power bill savings of $400.

Short said SolAmerica would be investing $1.6 million into the local grid through the project as well as providing a temporary boost to the economy while the development is built.

Neighbors had concerns about several issues, including clear cutting the land, use of possible herbicides and lighting. Also, a handful of abutters said they were not notified about the project or the June 1 hearing. Hurvitt said lack of notice was a “town of Blue Hill issue.”

Abutter Jason Young questioned the closeness of his home to the project.

“I’m not against solar, we live off the grid,” Young said. “But I don’t want to be the closest house to this big commercial project. I think there needs to be more setback.”

The Hesters spoke in favor of the project.

“I’m trying to do the least intrusive thing to generate income,” said Marty Hester. “Everyone wants solar, but no one wants it near them. I will do what I need to do to generate income for my family. If they [the board] put the kibosh on this, what comes next will be more intrusive.”

Tully Blaylock, senior vice president and general counsel for SolAmerica, said Blue Hill’s zoning ordinance permits solar projects larger than 500kw so long as they are “interconnected with a line tap to a subtransmission line with a voltage of 46kv or less.”

“SolAmerica believes that its Blue Hill community solar project meets this requirement and asked the Planning Board to vote to approve the permit for the project,” Blaylock said. “Despite the Planning Board’s vote to deny the permit, we remain optimistic that we can work collaboratively with the town of Blue Hill to find a way to develop this community solar project that will generate clean renewable energy and allow Blue Hill residents who subscribe to the project to receive savings on their energy bills.”

The attorney also cited Maine’s LD 1711, “An Act To Promote Solar Energy Projects and Distributed Generation Resources in Maine.”

In a May 25 letter to the Planning Board, Blaylock said the board has previously stated that it is concerned that community-scale solar projects like the SolAmerica project will take up capacity on local distribution circuits which could be used by local residents to install their own rooftop solar projects.

“Yet, the challenge of limited substation interconnection capacity for solar projects is present in communities throughout Maine,” the attorney wrote. “Transitioning to solar power requires that solar projects be built somewhere, and the community-scale solar projects contemplated by LD 1711 generally must be built on distribution circuits close to the consumers of electricity. If every community were to prohibit community-scale solar projects that take up capacity on distribution circuits, Maine’s solar legislation would fail and the state would not meet its energy objectives.”

Jennifer Osborn

Jennifer Osborn

Reporter and columnist at The Ellsworth American
News Reporter Jennifer Osborn covers news and features on the Blue Hill Peninsula and Deer Isle-Stonington. She welcomes tips and story ideas. She also writes the Gone Shopping column. Email Jennifer with your suggestions at [email protected] or call 667-2576.
Jennifer Osborn

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