ELLSWORTH — Councilors unanimously approved a temporary stop to solar facilities in the city during a short Oct. 18 meeting. The council had directed city staff on Sept. 20 to create a solar moratorium ordinance, and City Planner Elena Piekut obliged.
The ordinance applies to medium- and large-scale solar energy systems and lasts for 179 days. During that time, the city will not entertain new proposals for solar facilities, but projects already in the planning and development process will continue. Currently, one proposed facility is set for final Planning Board review on Nov. 4, and one previously approved seeks a revision. Both are off Bucksport Road.
The moratorium was prompted by “an expansion of solar projects across the state and the increase of proposals in Ellsworth,” Council Chairman Dale Hamilton said. How the projects contribute to the community, how they will connect to the existing Versant grid, the decommissioning process and the impact on land and land use are questions he has heard from community members.
“This is to get a better understanding how this all works,” he said. “It’s important we as a city understand that.”
The ordinance went into effect following council approval.
Councilors also had the opportunity to meet the new deputy fire chief, Douglas Belletete, who started his career in Alabama with the city of Decatur Fire and Rescue. Subsequently, he worked for the Department of Defense in Iraq and then Djibouti, Africa, where he served as an assistant chief of operations for several years. Oct. 18 was his first day on the job in Ellsworth, and he told The American that it went well.
“I’m really looking forward to being part of the community and the department,” Belletete said. “And I’m really looking forward to the job and everything that comes with it … Ellsworth has that hometown feel.”
In other city business, an increase to maximum General Assistance amounts as recommended by the Maine Municipal Association found unanimous approval. So did the purchase of a transfer station scale and a 2012 combination pumper-rescue firetruck that Fire Chief Scott Guillerault confirmed fits through the station doors.
Councilors also approved hiring an entrepreneur-in-residence for the Union River Center for Innovation. The position is funded by a three-year, $125,000 Maine Technology Institute grant awarded to the city in 2019. Development Director Janna Richards named Voot Yin, co-founder and chief scientific officer of Novo Biosciences, a biotech company and also a current tenant at the center.
Finally, councilors gave a warm farewell to Heather Grindle, whose council term ends Nov. 2. Councilor John Phillips’ term also expires then, but he was not in attendance.