BELGRADE – Residents at a special town meeting this week decided to extend by 180 days a ban on a range of developments in Belgrade, including solar and wind farms.
Tuesday’s vote was the second time a moratorium has been extended since it went into effect last November. It means applications for various permits, including for subdivisions and telecommunication installations, are not being accepted by the town.
The moratorium is scheduled to expire May 5 and is expected to give the Planning Board time to update the town’s outdated subdivision ordinance and draft regulations for commercial projects.
The board wants to require a decommissioning plan and a visual impact assessment for solar and wind farms, according to officials.
Town Manager Anthony Wilson said Wednesday he expects the changes to include a buffer strip for solar farms that would shield solar panels and equipment from roads or abutting properties.
A draft of the solar ordinance says its goal is to “support the development of utility scale solar energy facilities in a manner that minimizes any potential adverse effects on the scenic, cultural and natural resource character of the town.”
Belgrade’s subdivision ordinance was drafted in 1988 and is “wildly outdated,” Wilson said at Tuesday’s meeting.
A town vote on subdivision rules is expected at the annual Town Meeting in March. If approved, the moratorium on subdivisions would end at that time, Wilson said.
The solar, wind and telecommunications amendments are expected to take longer to finalize because the Planning Board only recently started work on them, Wilson said Wednesday.
A solar developer, Maine DG Holdco, intends to file an application this month with the Maine Department of Environmental Protection.
Maine DG Holdco is seeking approval for a 4.95-megawatt solar array on Oakland Road in Belgrade, but will not be able to file a permit application with the town until the moratorium expires.
“The project will also consist of access roads, underground electrical collector lines and a short segment of overhead electrical line,” according to a public notice detailing the project.
One solar farm has been permitted so far in Belgrade. Solar Fields, a company owned by Belgrade resident Steve Buchsbaum, was approved by the Planning Board in June 2020 to install a two-megawatt solar array at a fenced, 11.2-acre project area at 242 Route 135, also known as Manchester Road.
Buchsbaum said Tuesday he is in a “holding pattern,” awaiting an interconnection agreement from Central Maine Power Co. that allows his solar farm to connect to the grid at a substation in Augusta.
“We’re next in line in the queue,” Buchsbaum said.
He said all the necessary permits have been obtained, but he does not want to begin construction until the CMP agreement and an accompanying cost estimate for upgrades at the substation are finalized.
A buffer strip – trees and bushes – has been installed at the 20-acre former Christmas tree farm to shield the solar farm from view, even though such a buffer is not required in Belgrade.
The solar array would be a commercial installation, with the power it generates sold back to the electric grid.
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