ELLSWORTH — Proposals to install nearly 11,000 solar panels off Route 180 will move forward to the final application stages. Members of the Planning Board unanimously approved preliminary plans for the project at a virtual meeting on May 6.
The project would be built on two campuses — one 28.92 acres and the other 11.6 acres — known as the east and west sites, near the intersection with Route 1A. Representatives for SunRaise, which will manage the project via an LLC, Mariaville Road Ellsworth Solar, said they hope to start construction in the fall if all goes as planned.
“This is a project our company’s been developing for the much-anticipated community solar program that the legislature put in place last June that is set to roll out this summer,” said Pat Jackson, a representative from Portsmouth, N.H.-based SunRaise investments, which is behind the project.
“Essentially, this type of project is exactly what the state of Maine is looking for,” Jackson told the board, referring to a law passed last year, L.D. 1711, that promotes solar projects in the state.
“They’re looking for sites like this, near existing infrastructure,” said Jackson, referring to the electrical substation and grid connection that is nearby.
The company intends for the development to be a “community solar project,” he added, “So our company will be working with electric customers in the Emera territory to be off-takers for the eventual power that this project generates and those customers will receive a discount on their Emera bill.”
The company has a purchase-and-sale agreement in place with the current owner of the property, Bridgetwin, LLC, said Jackson, to buy the property and eventually be “not just the developer but the owner and operator as well.”
“We will essentially lease it back to ourselves,” said Jackson. “It’s a standard financing type structure.”
The roughly 11 acres of panels would be surrounded by a chain link fence, the representatives explained.
“The Maine solar program is a 20-year program, so all we expect the solar project to operate for is 20 years,” Jackson explained, with the price of decommissioning included in the project. After board members wondered what would happen if panels stayed up for longer than 20 years, SunRaise representative Eben Baker told the board that “Decommissioning costs would be reassessed after commencement of operations,” and said that the company is “accounting for that eventuality just not with a hard number at this point.”
The plans do not require much grading of the land, said Jackson. “Solar racking can now handle undulations in the land, whereas years ago it could not. We want to disturb as little as possible.” The project also requires permits from the Maine Department of Environmental Protection (DEP), said Jackson. The company plans to take down some trees, “but not fill in any of the wetlands.”
“We’re not doing an excavation,” said Jackson. “You can really just drive those screws” right into the earth, he said, referring to the mounts for the panels.
The Fire Department is satisfied with the plans, said Fire Inspector Mike Hangge. “We’re quite happy. We’ve been talking back and forth, emailing back and forth for a couple of months concerning the project and I think we’ve got everything ironed out.”
The project will come before the Planning Board at least one more time for a final plan review.