Franklin Countys First News

Solar power project brings a crowd to informational meeting

A representative from NextEra explains one of the projected solar panel sites to attendees of Wednesday's meeting.

FARMINGTON - A crowd gathered Wednesday evening on the University of Maine at Farmington campus to ask questions, voice concerns and gather information on a solar power project planning to break ground in the winter of 2018.

Representatives from NextEra Energy Inc., a Florida-based company, mingled with a crowd of local residents for an informal presentation of the proposed project. NextEra purchased the project from Ranger Solar, the original developer, earlier this year.

"We've heard some great thoughts tonight. We're still in a position to make changes and we're encouraging as much public participation as possible. The most important thing to us to be forward facing," project manager Liz Peyton said.

Display boards provided projections of what the solar panels would look like from various points in town, and a rundown of how the energy is actually captured and distributed. Layouts of the proposed project filled the room with roughly 40 people inspecting and questioning them.

One of NextEra's posters explaining of how solar energy works.

The project, which is the biggest in the state, will impact roughly 600 acres of land throughout the Farmington area, half of which is expected to be covered by the panels themselves. Those in favor of the project argue that the nearly $100 million investment is expected to bring significant tax benefits to the town, a benefit that has been seen with a similar project in Sanford.

"Will my electric bill drop? Probably not. But it could be a huge tax benefit that could help our schools. Why wouldn't we want them here?" resident Susan McPherran said.

Other attendees stressed their concern at not seeing the local electric bill reduced. One resident, whose property abuts one of the sites, said he is in support of solar energy, but he doesn't understand why the gathered electricity can't stop along the way and help the locals before being shipped out of state.

The bigger picture of solar power is much more complicated than that, project director Aaron Svedlow said. Svedlow lives in Yarmouth and is overseeing this project, as he has with others that NextEra has worked on.

"The electricity is being purchased by Connecticut, Rhode Island and Massachusetts, but the power helps the entire grid. We're not an isolated regional transmission system," Svedlow said.

He likened it to a giant swimming pool, where all of the energy from all of the solar projects across the region collects. At various points along the edge are the straws of companies who are drawing from the pool. The companies with the highest bids are allowed to add their straw. Maine, Svedlow said, doesn't have a process in place yet for adding its straw to the pool.

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.

"But Farmington gets all of the tax benefits. It's just like our paper, lumber, lobster and blueberry exports - we export the power and benefit from it. Plus, this project doesn't require services from the town and isn't looking for any hand outs. We're pretty pleased about building such a large facility with such a minimum impact," Svedlow said.

That "minimum impact" was another topic of concern for those in attendance. Engineers for the project detailed efforts to make it as least impactful on the environment and residents as possible. The company is investigating the local bat population and conducting a rare plant species study. The company has used existing logging roads whenever possible and will only clear land that has been previously cleared in the past 15 years.

But residents continued to voice concerns.

"Sometimes minimal isn't so minimal. Fear brought us here tonight," resident Terry Collins said.

"They say the land will be restored after the project is done, but it won't restore the deer who have moved. It's not accurate information," resident Lois Seamon said.

The project has a life expectancy of 25-35 years and is contracted to be decommissioned at that time. The company will then remove the panels to be recycled and restore the land to its original state. Svedlow told a resident that if for some reason the panels stop working before the 25-35 year mark, efforts will be made to repair the problem and if a panel is not being used it will be removed.

An application for Planning Board review is expected to be in by December or January, at which point the project's next phase will be discussed and presented the public.

A projected proposal of what one of the solar panel sites would look like.

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14 Responses »

  1. Why couldn't the power stay in the state??? All of these solar companies come in to Maine because we have land they can take up. However, they ship the electricity out of state. It states that Farmington will get ALL the tax benefit from it. What is the dollar amount of this here benefit???

  2. The article didn't say, this land must be currently taxed at a different rate? So being a solar farm it will be taxed at a higher rate? Or is it from the revenue generated from the sales of the power?
    Why would the money go directly to schools? And if so wouldn't this lower the property tax obligation for property owners? Or would it then just raise the amount the district gets to spend each year.
    I sure hope the powers to be think long and hard about this.

  3. This sounds just about like the wind farms and casino operators. They promise all kinds of jobs and property tax relief. It never comes folks.

  4. Good thoughts, Billy... If they're using fields, then it's likely Farm & Forest - a reduced tax rate to benefit farmers and loggers/woods growers. (Also called Tree Growth) If they're cutting down trees, it's also likely a reduced rate of taxation. One of Maine's biggest problems with getting/keeping industry is the cost of electricity. So wouldn't you think it could/should benefit the people of Maine? And can't you just hear it now? At the next School Budget meeting we'll hear "But increases aren't costing the tax payers anything" so it means the school can continue to spend out-of-control.

    We need more information, for sure!

  5. Seems as though a simple call to Sanford should provide the exact benefit of such an installation. I would expect the planning commission to make such a call before approving the application.
    Should the application be approved, what are the public's options.

  6. How is this going to affect the atlantic salmon in the sandy river ?How is it going to affect the other fish in the river ?is the york family selling the land or are they going to lease the land ?why should everyone have to look at eyesores and not reap the benefits from the eyesores ?power created here should stay here and we shouldn't have to buy power from out of state when theres plenty produced locallly .there are more studys that need to be done before this can happen .i urge the federal government to request a atlantic salmon study to take place first .also alot of this land is flood plain too.right now as this sits theres only farmington town and the yorks that benefit from this ,not the people with high power bills .i urge everyone to not let this happen to this area .

  7. An article concerning a Sanford Solar Farm, proposed

    http://www.pressherald.com/2016/05/04/sanford-approves-lease-for-maines-largest-solar-farm/

    Solar power tends to command a higher price in some areas, so likely the market south of us is willing and able to pay more for the "green power" than we would be willing to pay. Whatever the market will support for pricing, can justify the expense of building a solar farm, or not....

    This 100 million dollar investment could prove to be quite beneficial to our area. Do the studies, be kind to the neighbors, and all within sight of the panels....these are interesting times.

  8. Thanks for the link to the Sanford Project. I have to say, it did not make a believer out of me.

    A lot of glossy promises and feel good sort of article. Just to recover the cost of the initial project, leaves me wondering where does all this promised revenue to the town come from.

    That being said, with the balls to the wall momentum the solar industry is enjoying, I don't think there is anyway the Farmington project will not be a reality.

  9. Ask Bingham what the wind farm did for the school budget this year. They aren't rolling in the dough they were promised.

  10. meanwhile Maine, this backwards moving state we live in, keeps putting a tighter and tighter clamp on private solar installs for net metering benefit. but when Massachusetts passes a green energy law, we are expected to bear the burden.

  11. The only real question here is how much tax revenue does the town recieve for this land now and how much will it get if the project is comp!eted.People should be allowed to do whatever they see fit with their own land as it is zoned by the town.

  12. Sad to see this town go under, with all the boondoggles. Soon Maine will just be all solar panels and stupid inefficient wind turbines that can't pay for themselves before burning out...but made SOMEONE a fortune on the install, blowing the tops off the mountains and all. UGLY and destructive, but, told it is "green", off they go...

  13. woodsnut.... it might be possible for you to buy the land and do what you want with it... you should check with the Yorks.... most everything can be sold... if the price is right...

  14. How can it be that in every article the same "negative" commenters who make accusations with no proof and complain about; paying taxes, poor suffering businesses due to Government regulations, and touting the need for more local jobs, are the same people who come out looking to get theirs and stop economic investments when someone else is doing all the work? Wouldn't any business investment be a good thing for Franklin county?

    Maybe we need new leadership around here because it seems a little funny to me that none of our local leaders dare to use a name to comment on real issues? Running for office or save a cat or get recognized for a good cause and they are ready to add that to their public persona. We all know they comment....

    My "opinion"about this project is Yorks are hard working and smart enough to find ways to grow = Good. Solar is not 100% Green except that it is 100% Green Money producing = Good. This project will bring a lot of short term jobs and spending directly to the area businesses. = Good. The project will leave a few more long term jobs than we had before.= Good.

    What does it matter where the power goes? I'm pretty sure that if you want renewable power you can opt to buy through you service and may pay a little more. Land? that is what Maine has pleanty of and it will have less impact than draining our water for a dry country. Taxes? Every new working and land owning person in this county is just making it stronger.

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