Franklin Countys First News

Farming Solar: ‘A different way to produce something’

The area outlined in yellow is where NextEra Energy is proposing the solar panels be placed. The project is still in its initial planning phase.

Bussie York in his farm store last year.

FARMINGTON - Maine's largest solar power facility project is hoping to break ground next winter, expanding over roughly 600 acres of land in Farmington - half of which would be used by the solar panels themselves.

While the acreage is scattered throughout Farmington, 500 acres are owned by Bussie York of Sandy River Farms, located on the Farmington Falls Road. York, whose family has been farming the property since 1952, has been working closely with the Florida-based company NextEra Energy to finalize the details of the plan which has been in the works since 2015.

"A lot of the specifics aren't worked out yet," York said. "This next year will see a continuation of surveys and environmental impact studies."

The project has not been without its critics. At an informational meeting held in October, some residents expressed concerns that the project would not reduce local electricity bills. Planners have said that the harvested power will go to states like Connecticut and Massachusetts, as Maine doesn't submit bids to utilize solar power from New England.

Other residents are concerned that the solar facility will negatively impact the area's environment, even after the equipment is removed after the 25- to 35-year life expectancy of the project.

York said much of the acreage that NextEra is leasing is actually still covered in trees, so he will see little impact on his farming business. York's parents bought the farm in 1952, moving down from Titcomb Hill Road to restart on the Farmington Falls Road. When York took over in 1962 he slowly began building the business up - tripling the amount of farmed acres to the 600 it is today.

"I've lived here for 80 years. I hold a lot of sentimental value for this town," York said. He tells the story of his birth - in the middle of mud season; his father having to harness the horses to pull the doctor's Model-T up Titcomb Hill. "It seemed to me this project would benefit everyone and create an industry for Farmington that is unique and has hardly any impact on town infrastructure."

Engineers with the company have researched on the local wildlife, rare plant species and other potential environmental impacts in regards to the installation. In addition, the company is using existing logging roads as often as possible and are only clearing areas that have been forested in the last 15 years.

The $100 million project is anticipated to bring roughly 180 short-term jobs during implementation phase as well as up to 8 full-time jobs once completed. According to York, the company is committed to using local contractors and workforce as much as possible.

"We've been using the same source of energy to grow corn for the last 60 years here. I just see this as a totally different way to produce something for the community using the sun," York said.

In addition, York values the monetary contribution that the collaboration will offer his farm.

"We have seen our share of difficult times. Farming involves a lot of trials and tribulations, but the family has survived and the kids are stronger for it," York said.

The future of small Maine farms is a difficult subject. With larger corporations offering products at much lower rates, it has become increasingly tough for Maine farmers, like the Yorks, to compete.

"There will always be agriculture, but it will shift," York said. "Maybe this solar thing will fill in some of the gaps for us."

The Planning Board is expected to begin reviewing an application from NextEra in the next few weeks.

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8 Responses »

  1. Progressive, forward thinking movement. Congratulations and thank you for your contribution to Farmington's future.

  2. Good to see. Go for it.

  3. I'd rather see solar panels going up than more wharehouses full of pot stinking up our town. At least Busie can say he's making and honest living. The hundred million solar farm should help the tax base and lower the tax obligation to the working people of Farmington.

  4. The thought of ruining hundreds of acres of productive land is wasteful in the extreme. Solar on housing, warehouse, malls and as sound barriers along roadsides,over already hard surfaces roads,and carparks. Would extend life of roads etc and also over cycle paths, why over open fields? when we have so many other places to put them.

  5. This project is surely more dependent on decisions made in Massachusetts than in Farmington. It takes a lot of money to convert solar energy into electricity and someone has to pay a lot more on their monthly electric bills for it.  Massachusetts is currently the only State requesting contracts for renewable energy and this project is among over forty projects vying for a contract. 
        Digging deeper into what injection of solar into the grid is doing reveals, in time, with each additional contract award with a solar plant, interference with normal grid operations will raise the cost of electricity for everyone in New England.
     Win, lose situation.

  6. A project like this brings real needed jobs, supports the local businesses and will require services from locals in terms of washing panels, maintenance work and of course buying products for it now and in the future.
    Of course, this company proposing this plant could take their $100 million and go invest somewhere else and allow the current businesses and our community to continue funding the needed tax base.
    These solar plants don’t harm the environment because I have some on land I own. I have yet to see negative effects and likely will never know it’s there after a few years. There is some annoyance during construction, but it goes fast.
    The people who comment negatively really need to inform themselves. The power goes into the grid like every other power plant that currently feeds your home or business. Who cares where the power goes. You should be more worried about where else this investment goes if it doesn’t come to our community. Some other community will benefit. I have a bad idea for everyone: We should all vote to allow a chemical plant or industrial landfill on Mr. York’s land.

  7. How much tax money is coming in to the town of Farmington, because of that stinking green stuff that the warehouses are growing, and just in case you did not know it was voted on and it pass, so there is nothing illegal about it, between the property taxes that the town take in to the taxes on the product, and if the town doesn't collected any of it , it nobody falsity but the town for not taxing it right.
    What I like to know is now much of a subsidized are/he getting to put these up, and why are they getting it, if it so good why do they need a subsidize. It just like wind power it so good they need a subsidize lol you green people crack me up

  8. One only needs to go to Madison in the winter to see how effective these solar panels are. After a snow storm they are 0% efficient , and until the snow clears the panels they are far from totally efficient. The low end of the panels are not high enough off the ground, the snow builds up covering the entire panel and only clears as the built up snow on the ground lowers. Be thankful Maine does not require us to use solar or wind, very expensive.