ELLSWORTH — The company behind a proposed 17-acre solar array on Nicolin Road approved Oct. 6 must provide financial assurance of its decommissioning plan before any city permit is issued. The Planning Board vote was 3-0, with Molly Friedland abstaining.
Friedland, an alternate who participated in the absence of members Marc Rich and Nelson Geel, expressed reservations on potential erosion, with the project’s location near Boggy Brook and Green Lake. The issue had been raised at preliminary meetings by some residents of Nicolin Road.
“I’m not convinced that the drinking water source will not be affected,” Friedland said. “I feel that we as a city do not know the long-term ramifications of this type of development yet because it is so new to the area.”
“I’m not sure that is directly covered by the ordinance,” offered Chairman John Fink.
Friedland agreed, noting that she supported alternate energy sources but that the project “feels precarious.”
Nicolin Road is near Green Lake and Boggy Brook, and erosion concerns will likely bring city staff to scheduled inspections in coordination with the developer. But after the meeting, City Watershed Steward John Wedin said that drinking water concerns are overstated.
“It is not the drinking water supply for city of Ellsworth and is not connected to the Branch Lake watershed in any way,” Wedin said before adding, “All the watershed drains into great ponds and rivers, and we care about all of them. We will always monitor them to make sure erosion is not an issue.”
A second solar project also found full board approval, but this was for its preliminary application. The board found the application to be complete despite questions on its decommissioning bond amount, which is far less than the amount provided for similar-sized solar arrays.
The project is planned for two adjacent lots within a swath of undeveloped land off Bucksport Road across from Twin Hill Road near Boulders Way. The parcels (Tax Map 37, Lots 20 and 20-1) are owned by Adelbert Gaspar of Ellsworth. Boston-based Nexamp has a lease and option to purchase in place.
“Are you doing something different?” Vice Chairman John DeLeo asked, concerning the sum set aside for decommissioning. He asked for more frequent review during the lifespan of the project. Solar arrays generally are decommissioned after approximately 20 years. Decommissioning is the removal and proper disposal of the old equipment.
DeLeo also said he wasn’t inclined to approve the application as complete because of missing information.
“That’s what the final [application] review is for, to see if these things have been taken care of,” board member Rick Lyles countered.
City Planner Elena Piekut said the “incompletes” were minor, and that accepting the application as complete would mean the project would have a stronger legal standing if a proposed solar moratorium ordinance is approved by City Council. The moratorium, if enacted, would not affect projects already under development. The moratorium ordinance is on the council’s agenda for Oct. 18.
The large-scale 5-megawatt array would sit on 94.6 acres in the rural and drinking water districts. An existing gravel access road will be widened to 20 feet through the array. The project first came before the Planning Board in March.
In other board business, a revision to plans for a community and visitor center at Woodlawn, initially approved in 2018, was quickly and unanimously approved. The revision downsizes the building from 14,000 square feet to 10,672 square feet, moves the parking area and adds a 10,000-gallon cistern for fire protection. A sprinkler system will also be installed in the building.