ELLSWORTH — In the wide-open solar industry in Maine, two new applications for solar arrays are up for Planning Board review in Ellsworth.
First, a Delaware company, Ameresco, proposes a 17,000-panel solar array on a 48.6-acre parcel at 889 Bucksport Road, in the drinking water and rural zones. The so-named Ellsworth ME Solar Project would have a 17.2-acre footprint and be set back about 1,300 feet from Bucksport Road. The site will be accessed by the existing driveway and a gravel road, which will be extended and improved, according to the preliminary application. Ameresco has an option to lease 17.2 acres for the array with owners Sharon and Daniel Awalt that expires Nov. 27, 2021. The project is estimated to have a $8.3 million price tag, with construction to start in March of 2022 and end in December.
In a separate project, Maine-based Dirigo Solar proposes a 15.12-acre array on a 95-acre parcel on Nicolin Road, in the rural zone. A new driveway will be built on Nicolin Road to access the site, which is mostly wooded, undeveloped property. A lease option agreement for the site acreage was signed with landowner Dillon Investments LLC. The estimated cost of the project is $4.1 million, with construction between spring and winter of 2022. A decommissioning plan for the solar array — solar panels generally last around 20 years at full strength — was not included in the preliminary application, although Kerri Taylor of the city’s planning department noted it could still be submitted for review prior to the August 4 Planning Board meeting.
The proposed BD Solar Ellsworth project is one of several solar projects Dirigo is developing in Maine, with investment funds from BNRG Renewables Ltd., under the name BNRG Dirigo. BNRG Renewables Ltd. is headquartered in Dublin, Ireland.
Since 2020, the Planning Board has reviewed and approved four solar array projects and is waiting submission of the preliminary application of a fifth after a sketch plan meeting in April. And in neighboring Hancock County towns, solar projects are routinely finding approval from local planning boards, after legislation opened the doors to community and other solar facilities. Four projects are approved in Franklin, and Hancock, Lamoine, Sedgwick, Trenton and Township 16 have all approved solar projects. In Ellsworth, two Mariaville Road solar projects will provide enough electricity to offset use by municipal buildings and schools.
But some towns are hesitant to jump on the solar farm bandwagon. Voters in Blue Hill approved a moratorium on applications for new solar projects, and Bucksport this month rejected a solar farm proposal on land formerly owned by Verso Paper.
The Ellsworth Planning Board will review both solar preliminary applications on Wednesday, Aug. 4, at 5:30 p.m., in the council chamber at City Hall.