FRANKLIN — The Planning Board last Thursday unanimously approved a plan for a 12.24-acre commercial solar generation facility on Hog Bay Road. This is the fourth approved solar project in the town. Its approval comes on the heels of the Dec. 10 approval of a solar project proposed by Consolidated Edison Development Inc. that will have sites on the Hog Bay Road and Cards Crossing.
The project reviewed last week, a 2-megawatt farm to be built on land owned by Maine Coast Sea Vegetables Inc., was presented by Borrego Solar Systems Inc. on behalf of Hog Bay Solar, 1, LLC.
Ryan Bailey, a project developer with Borrego, presented the project along with civil engineer David Albrecht, who attended the hearing via Zoom. Bailey explained that the land for the proposed project has a varied history, including use as a gravel pit. The parcel is about 62 acres, with 12 acres of it being used for the project. He said the site is on the “smaller end” compared to other proposed projects in the state.
The project is “participating in a state incentive program” and will provide power to small- and medium-sized businesses in Versant Power’s district, Bailey said. Per the project’s agreement with Versant, “We know we will be able to interconnect the system without causing any major upgrades to the grid,” he explained.
Regarding concerns from the board over whether an old cemetery near the project would still be accessible, Bailey said, “Paths [to the cemetery] will all remain accessible.”
Access is needed due to Maine law, which requires that towns maintain graves of veterans, the board explained. Conditions for the project’s approval include constructing sound barrier walls on the north and west sides of where equipment, such as transformers and inverters, will be kept. This is to protect an abutting property from noise disturbances and should drop noise from the site to a background level.
Additionally, signage will be placed at the east and west sides of the entrance road during the project’s construction to notify the public of the traffic from trucks entering the site.
Although the project was unanimously approved, Board Chairman Brian Abbott said he was concerned that the solar panels are tax-exempt, but the projects, which are often multimillion-dollar endeavors, could be counted in the town’s valuation performed by the state.
He said the increase in the valuation could alter what the town receives in state funding for the public schools in the area. Abbott noted that one reason why solar projects have been cropping up throughout the state is due to 2019 legislation that was drafted and passed to encourage solar development.
The project proposed by Borrego is participating in these programs, as Bailey noted in his presentation. According to Maine.gov, projects can range from the installation of solar panels on a residential rooftop to larger community projects. Incentives to participate include Net Energy Billing, which provides kilowatt hour credits to all electric utility customers or dollar credits on electricity bills of nonresidential customers, according to the website.
Another incentive is called Distributed Generation, which includes programs that “allow customers to offset their electricity bills using the output from small, renewable generators,” the website states.