WARREN — A solar farm project that would be the largest in New England would be a game-changer for the city, a city official said during a more than two-hour public hearing Thursday night.
The Planning Board voted unanimously at the end of the July 14 hearing to defer consideration of the site plan application until its August 11 meeting. Members said they wanted time to review the new information provided at the public hearing.
The $125-150 million Warren Meadow Solar Station would be located off Wotton’s Mill Road and extend to Carroll Road and encompass much of 675 acres. There would be an electrical substation, 63 sea-sized containers with batteries and 200,000 solar panels. The property is located next to a Central Maine Power transmission line.
The project, if approved, would generate enough electricity to power 18,450 homes for a year, according to the developer.
Residents expressed concern about the impact on their property values, the impact on roads, fire safety and whether there would be sufficient assurance that the company would cover the costs of dismantling.
Although the city does not have ordinances specifically regulating solar farms, Glenvale Solar Farm founder Aidan Foley said the company designed the project expecting stricter ordinances.
Hank Reed questioned why the Planning Board was proceeding with its review of New England’s largest solar project without first passing ordinances to regulate such a project.
The city is considering ordinances to regulate solar farms, but Planning Board Chairman Jason Tourila stressed that any ordinances passed by the city would not affect current demand since it has already filed a full application.
Agent Jim Murphy of Warren Assessors said the project would be a game-changer for the city.
Glenvale Solar Farm founder Aidan Foley estimated the project would generate $831,000 in additional property taxes for the city in the first year.
Murphy said if the project is approved without tax increase funding district, the city would lose state revenue sharing and be responsible for paying more of the regional school district’s budget due to the beneficiation. highest in the city after the first two years. There is a two-year lag in determining state assessments.
The appraiser’s agent said it was too early to know whether the value of nearby residential properties would be reduced due to the solar farm. He said he would need data before he knew if the values should change.
The business has not requested a district tax surcharge but it may be requested. A tax-raised funding district would protect much of the additional state assessment value, resulting in the loss of state revenue sharing and additional school commitment. A TIF would also return some of the increased tax revenue to the company, often for infrastructure.
A TIF could not be approved without a vote of the municipal assembly. If approved by residents, the Selectboard would then negotiate the terms of the TIF.
Haley Mank said she had a nice farm and didn’t want to see a solar farm. She said more trees needed to be planted as a buffer to the solar project and her property.
Paula Sutton said the city doesn’t need another shooting range scenario in which the city approved the project on Route 90 and ended up with tons of trash stored at the site over 20 years later. She urged the Planning Council to take its time and exercise due diligence in reviewing the project.
Molli Bennett said the roads already had to be replaced every two years and expressed concern about the impact of large trucks using the roads during construction.
The plan was first submitted to the city and the Maine Department of Environmental Protection in March. The Warren Planning Board concluded that the site plan application was complete at its May 12 meeting. A site visit was held at the property on June 2.
The land would be leased to landowners including John Hart, EC Hart and Thomas Watson. Watson sits on the planning board but recused himself from participating in the review. The land is currently used for timber harvesting and has gravel pits.
The application from the company, based in Jamaica Plain, Mass., says the development would create jobs for local residents (200 jobs at peak construction); contracting opportunities for local businesses, including clearing, site, works, electrical and surveying; supporting conservation and recreation opportunities; and establish habitat for pollinators.
The main access for construction vehicles would be an existing entrance from Wottons Mill Road.
Construction is expected to begin before the end of 2023. The project must be approved by the Maine Department of Environmental Protection and the US Army Corps of Engineers.
“Once operational, the project will generate emissions-free electricity for decades, offsetting more than 4,000,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide emissions over forty years. In the first year of service, the emissions avoided by the Warren Meadow Solar Station will be equal to the carbon sequestered by 214 square miles of forest,” the company states.
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