State officials on Wednesday approved a request from a developer to rezone 700 acres in Hancock County to make way for development of a 100-megawatt solar farm.
The Land Use Planning Commission voted unanimously to approve the zoning change, which will enable the parcel in Township 16 in eastern Hancock County to be developed into a commercial-scale solar power site, said Samantha Horn, LUPC’s planning manager. She said the commission did not receive any comments from the public opposing the zoning change, which is expected to go into effect Aug. 23.
The site is roughly a mile away from a wind turbine that is part of Novatus Energy’s 51-megawatt Hancock Wind farm, which, according to a report by Vox, has the tallest land-based wind turbines in the country. Electricity transmission lines owned by power distribution company Emera run through the proposed solar development site.
The change from a general classification zone to commercial does not allow for other commercial development of the property, which was cleared a few years ago with the intent of using it for blueberry cultivation, according to Horn. She said the zoning would automatically revert to general classification should the proposed solar farm be decommissioned.
Earlier this year, the commission changed its permitting standards for commercial solar operations so that eligible properties can be rezoned specifically for solar farms, Horn has said. Prior rules required solar farms to be built in areas in the Unorganized Territory already zoned for commercial or industrial uses, which she said made getting approval “difficult.”
Next Phase Energy Services, which partnered with property owner Elliott Jordan & Son on the project, still has to get approval from Maine Department of Environmental Protection before it can start developing the site, Horn said.
If the project gets all of its permits, the developers would bring in a partner to provide an estimated $120 million in needed capital investment, according to Dave Fowler, a former senior land manager with First Wind who is now head of Next Phase Energy Services. He has said the project likely would not be completed until sometime in 2020.
The largest solar array currently active in Maine is Cianbro’s 9.9-megawatt project on Route 2 in Pittsfield, which was completed late last year. But bigger solar projects are on the horizon.
Installation of a 50-megawatt project planned for the Sanford Seacoast Regional Airport is expected to begin later this year, pending approval by state and municipal officials. An 80-megawatt solar project is planned in Farmington and another 100-megawatt project at a former military air base in Limestone.
According to ISO-New England, the nonprofit that manages the region’s power grid, there are other 100-plus-megawatt solar projects being considered in Maine that have expressed preliminary interest in becoming part of New England’s electric supply system. One of them, according to a centralmaine.com report, is a 150-megawatt solar project that would be built at a former military radar site in Moscow and Caratunk.