News Feature

Originally published in The Weekly Packet, April 16, 2020
Sedgwick solar farm gains planning board approval
Now waiting on the state

by Anne Berleant

A proposed solar farm on blueberry fields off Caterpillar Hill Road is one step closer after the planning board unanimously approved its site plan review application April 14. If the project is accepted into a state solar program this summer, construction would begin in the spring of 2021.

“We’ll have shovel in the ground around this time next year,” Borrego Solar Project Developer Matt Swansberg said.

Lowell, Mass.-based Borrego Solar proposes fencing in a five-acre area on 19.9 acres of existing blueberry fields, leased from Bruce and Linette Grindal, for the solar installation.

The vote followed a public hearing, held via video and telephone conferencing, with no concerns voiced by the public.

However, even with planning board approval, hurdles exist—mainly being accepted into the state solar program—along with negotiations with selectmen who place the final signatures on the permit.

One town concern raised by planning board member Peter Neill to selectmen April 9, was over property tax, specifically whether the company would seek a possible 50 percent reduction permitted by the state for projects like these.

The estimated property tax is about $70,000 for the first year, with it decreasing for the next four years before settling at about $13,000 to $14,000 for the final 15 years of the project, Swansberg said, noting solar farms like these have a 20 year life span.

But Borrego Solar prefers paying a set amount to municipalities in lieu of property taxes for the life of the project over property tax, according to Swansberg, and is not interested in seeking a state exemption.

“With a stroke of the pen, the tax exemption can go away during the term of the lease,” he said.

Selectmen also plan to negotiate adding the town as an additional insured entity; a company donation of power to Sedgwick Elementary School for the life of the project; an escrow fund rather than a bond to insure proper dismantling of the farm at the end of its life span; and, Actinng Chairman Michael Rossney said, “to firm up the ability to form a power sharing agreement or sell credits to the municipality and residents.”

All state permits have been approved, and an interconnectivity agreement with Emera Maine has been submitted to the Public Utilities Commission for approval.

However, whether the project is accepted into the state solar program won’t be known until summer. The program has set 500 megawatts of electricity as available to be generated by solar projects like these. As of a month or two ago, the PUC had received 1.5 gigawatts worth of applications, three times the amount of wattage available. Borrego is submitting their application this week.

The lottery-style selection process will also determine whether the project falls under the community shared solar designation. If it does, local residents can purchase credits generated by the system, Swansberg said.

The program falls under Maine Statute LD 1711, An Act To Promote Solar Energy Projects and Distributed Generation Resources in Maine.