The Bristol Planning Board will soon consider two permit applications for a 12.7-acre solar farm spread across two properties, with the possibility of a at least one more application to come for a separate solar farm.
The planning board discussed the proposals for ground-mounted solar installations Thursday, Aug. 6.
All the farms will be under 5 megawatts, the cap for community solar farms under state law, although the third would be a commercial installation.
Under the law passed last year, any Central Maine Power Co. ratepayer and local resident can buy into a project to receive credit on their electricity bill through net metering.
MidCoast Solar LLC, of New Harbor, is seeking two building permits for one 12.7-acre community solar farm across two contiguous properties. The array would be across the road from the CMP substation on Route 130.
“Instead of the solar farm creating revenue by selling the energy to the utility, local residents and businesses buy the energy through a subscription. People subscribe to the energy created in the solar farm that offsets the mixed power used at their home,” Midcoast Solar’s website states.
If approved, the installation will be on Sterling T. Crooker’s Kelly Street property and Mercedes Borromeo’s 1442 Bristol Road property, which is accessed by Sproul Hill Road.
Town Administrator Chris Hall has said the installations would not be visible from Bristol Road.
Neither Nathanial Curtis, a representative for Midcoast Solar, nor the property owners could be reached for comment.
According to the applications, the installation is estimated to cost $3.5 million.
According to Bristol Code Enforcement Officer Joseph Rose, the applications have not been officially submitted because no fees have been paid. Rose said the company wanted to engage in a dialogue with the town before forcing it to make a decision by paying the fees.
“They’re being very nice at this point. They can say, ‘Right now, you’re charging 15 cents a square foot. Here’s a check for what we think ought to be your permit fees.’ The clock then starts and would have to be acted on within 35 days of the permit application,” Rose said.
Midcoast Solar has also expressed interest in eventually applying to build a second community solar farm, according to Rose.
Eben Baker, of Stantec, an engineering firm that is inquiring on behalf of its client about a potential solar installation on Christian Hill Road, was present at the meeting but said he did not come to make a presentation.
The array on Christian Hill Road would be a commercial installation rather than a community one. The difference is that a commercial array is a for-profit venture financed by an investor or group of investors to sell the electricity back to the grid or to any other buyer.
The planning board scheduled a presentation from Stantec and Midcoast Solar for its next meeting, which will take place at town hall at 7 p.m., Thursday, Aug. 20.
The board discussed several questions to bring up at the presentation, such as environmental impacts, performance guarantees, and what happens to the equipment when it is no longer functional.
The board also discussed the possibility of raising permit fees for solar panels. Under the land use ordinance, the town could charge 15 cents for each square foot of development, the fee for unheated commercial structures.
Rose said Damariscotta and Waldoboro charge 30 cents per square foot for solar installations.
Under state law, municipalities cannot levy property taxes on any solar farm under 5 megawatts. The town can still collect taxes on the land as undeveloped property, however.
The solar farm proposed by Midcoast Solar would cover 551,969.5 square feet, or approximately 12.7 acres.
Rose said the selectmen are looking to the planning board for a recommendation on the impacts of solar farms and on whether the current permit fees are appropriate.
“They’re looking for this board to advise and gather information,” Rose said.