ELLSWORTH — Add this to the list of things that will have to wait as officials around the county and state deal with coronavirus: solar panels in Ellsworth.
City councilors voted on March 16 to table discussing a proposed ordinance on solar panels in light of limited public access to City Hall because of coronavirus concerns.
“This is a significant issue that we should have public input on and not pass it when we don’t have the opportunity for the community to weigh in,” said Chairman Dale Hamilton at a council meeting on March 16.
There was no word on when the council would take up the proposed ordinance changes. A company out of New Hampshire, SunRaise Development, LLC, has approached city officials with plans to put up nearly 11,000 photovoltaic panels on two parcels of land on the Mariaville Road, but officials said last Monday they would work with the company and ask it to delay the application until the city has regulations in place.
The plans, which were set to be presented at a Planning Board meeting scheduled for April 1 (the meeting has since been canceled), included a 3.1-acre solar energy facility with 5,780 panels and a 540-foot gravel access road on a 29-acre parcel, what the company has dubbed the “east site,” and an additional 5,120 panels on a 7.53-acre parcel, the “west site,” on 11.6 acres with a 677-foot gravel access road. Both parcels are currently owned by Bridgetwin, LLC. The land is in the urban and limited residential zones.
“That application is already in the pipeline,” said Planning Board member John DeLeo last Monday evening, suggesting officials get an opinion from city attorneys before going forward. “If that comes before the Planning Board with nothing in our ordinances to cover solar farms … do we have jurisdiction over it?”
“We ran into this on a couple of other things in the past,” said Council member John Phillips. “Once it was started and initiated you had to use present rules at the time the application was started.”
DeLeo said he had gotten an opinion from a woman on the Planning Board in Trenton who said she was told by an attorney from the Maine Municipal Association that, with no ordinance in place, the board would have to deny an application because it would not have jurisdiction to hear the matter.
“They’ll be back,” said DeLeo, “if we deny the application and say resubmit it after the council has a chance to, hopefully, pass this.”
City staff have been in the process of drafting regulations on solar energy for several months, looking at where panels would be allowed, height restrictions, setbacks, battery storage and what happens to panels once they reach the end of their useful life. Any ordinance changes must be approved by the City Council before they can take effect.