Solar developer appealing Blue Hill Planning Board’s rejection

BLUE HILL — A developer who proposed building a 16-acre solar farm off South Street is appealing the Blue Hill Planning Board’s rejection of the project.

Board members voted unanimously June 1 that the proposed solar development is not a permitted use.

The board cited the size of the project as one issue. Blue Hill’s current Commercial Site Plan Review Ordinance doesn’t permit any solar developments over 2 acres in size.

Also, Chairwoman Mary Alice Hurvitt said during that meeting that the current ordinance restriction had been written in response to proposed large-scale solar farm use. Hurvitt added that the thinking of the town was that it wouldn’t be fair to the next resident or business who wanted to create a solar project because he or she or the business would have to undertake the expense of upgrading the transmission line.

Tully Blaylock, senior vice president and general counsel for SolAmerica, previously said Blue Hill’s Zoning Ordinance permits solar projects larger than 500 kilowatts (kW) so long as they are “interconnected with a line tap to a subtransmission line with a voltage of 46 kV (kilovolts) or less.”

SolAmerica listed a handful of reasons for its appeal of the board’s decision. Among them are the board’s reasoning for the “no” vote, which the developer said was motivated “by fear.”

Rudman Winchell attorney Stephen Wagner is handling the appeal for SolAmerica.

“The Planning Board erred in denying SolAmerica’s application because it misinterpreted the undefined term ‘subtransmission line,’” Wagner stated in a July 1 notice of appeal to the town.

“Contrary to Maine case law governing the interpretation of ambiguous land use ordinances, the Planning Board ignored entirely the plain text of the ordinance, construed admitted ambiguities of the ordinance against the applicant and based its decision solely upon its belief about what the voters intended this undefined term to mean and what sort of solar projects the voters intended to prohibit.

“Looking to the plain text, and construing the ordinance as a whole, it is clear that there is no textual support for the Planning Board’s interpretation. To the contrary, the proposed project would tie into an existing line running along South Street, which is less than 46 kV, and would so via an underground medium voltage line tap running from the solar array transformer to the point of interconnection, meeting the requirements to be a permissible use in accordance with the plain meaning of Ordinance section 3(17)(B).”

“Moreover, it is clear the Planning Board’s decision was motivated by a fear that the project would reduce capacity and reliability, a conclusion that is not supported by substantial evidence,” Wagner stated. “Finally, the Planning Board also erred when it stopped its analysis short and declined to apply the additional criteria of the ordinance.”

Neighbors at the June 1 hearing had concerns about several issues, including clear cutting the land, use of possible herbicides and lighting. Also, a handful of abutters said they were not notified about the project or the hearing.

It isn’t clear whether the Blue Hill Appeals Board has a date scheduled yet to hear the appeal.

Jennifer Osborn

Jennifer Osborn

Reporter and columnist at The Ellsworth American
News Reporter Jennifer Osborn covers news and features on the Blue Hill Peninsula and Deer Isle-Stonington. She welcomes tips and story ideas. She also writes the Gone Shopping column. Email Jennifer with your suggestions at [email protected] or call 667-2576.
Jennifer Osborn

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