A developer is proposing to build a 4.95-megawatt, 18-acre community solar farm on two parcels off Controversy Lane in Waldoboro.
Representatives of the developer, Syncarpha, had a pre-application meeting with the Waldoboro Planning Board on Wednesday, Oct. 14.
Controversy Lane is off North Nobleboro Road, and the site is near the Nobleboro town line. The two parcels total 65 acres, while the array would cover about 18.
“This is a 4.95-megawatt ground-mounted photovoltaic solar array, and essentially those are tables that are installed in the ground and the panels are placed on top of them. This is a fixed solar array,” said Katherine Garrard, of Power Engineers.
Garrard said energy from the solar farm would feed out to three-phase power on North Nobleboro Road.
Because it would be a community solar farm, Waldoboro residents and other area residents could “purchase discount utility credits from the project that can be applied to their CMP bill,” Garrard said.
Power Engineers Inc. is an international consulting and engineering firm with headquarters in Idaho and a location in Freeport.
For the Waldoboro project, the firm will conduct a natural resources assessment and wetlands delineation, and will assist the developer with the permitting process.
Michael Atkinson, a project developer with Syncarpha Solar, was also in attendance. Syncarpha Solar is the development branch of Syncarpha Capital, the New York-based solar energy company behind the proposal.
Syncarpha is already active in Lincoln County. The developer recently received approval from the town of Wiscasset to build a 4.95-megawatt community solar farm at 29 Jones Road. That project will cover 20 acres of a 186-acre lot off Mountain Road.
Atkinson said utility credits from solar farms typically result in a 10% discount on the customer’s utility bill.
He said the developer is not looking to develop and sell the solar farm, but to develop and operate it.
“We are a long-term owner and operator of solar projects, primarily in the Northeast,” Atkinson said. “We are different from a lot of solar developers because some companies will develop or construct these projects and sell them to an investor. Our main business model is to be the investor, the long-term owner and operator of these projects. We plan to be around for at least the initial 20-year contract we will be entering into with CMP.”
Atkinson said the company has an asset management team that will remotely monitor the site daily to make sure there are no issues.
“We hope that the same phone number you would call with any questions now would be the phone number you call in 20 years,” Atkinson said.
He said the 18-acre farm would be unlikely to expand in the future. “This boundary is not likely to change given the proximity of wetlands and our desire to stay below the 20-acre threshold,” he said.
Scott Simpson, chair of the planning board, asked what threshold Atkinson was referring to.
Solar projects of more than 20 acres need a special state permit, according to Atkinson. “There is really no chance of this project being larger than that,” he said.
John Kosnow, a member of the planning board, asked how Syncarpha makes money off community solar farms.
“We will enter into a 20-year power-purchase agreement with CMP, so they will be buying the electricity from us and we will then have folks purchase bill credits at 90% of what they currently pay, so they can offset 10% of their electric bill,” Atkinson said.
Kosnow asked how weather impacts solar farms.
“Even on a cloudy day, when it is raining, the solar farm is still producing electricity. It is like how you can still get sunburn at a cloudy day on the beach. It is still absorbing photovoltaic rays,” Atkinson said.
Jim Russo, a planning board member, asked if the power connection from Controversy Lane to North Nobleboro Road would be on new or existing utility poles.
“I believe they will be upgraded. They will go from single-phase to three-phase poles. I’m not sure if the physical pole in the ground right now will be switched out or not,” Atkinson said. “The number of wires on them will go from one to three.”
Russo asked where the solar farm would interface with the Central Maine Power Co. grid.
“Right now our application has the point of interconnection at the intersection of Sunset Road and Controversy Lane. We would be responsible (for) getting the power to that location,” Atkinson said.
According to Atkinson, CMP currently has three-phase power on North Nobleboro Road.
Residents and abutters raised concerns about the project’s impact on the neighborhood and the ability of the road to accommodate the vehicles necessary to build a solar farm.
Paige Bossow, of Controversy Lane, said her main concern is the road.
“The road, to me, was never built to town standards,” Bossow said, “and I think people need to come out and take a look and see what the road looks like now. My main concern is all the traffic that would be coming in during the initial phase and the road.”
Keri Lupien, of Waldoboro, asked if the developer would consider allowing a conservation easement on the property to ensure public recreation can continue there. She said there are snowmobile trails on the property.
“We are open to having those sorts of discussions about what other parts of land can and cannot be used for down the road. We really hadn’t gotten that far with the remaining acreage,” Atkinson said.
Atkinson said the project is in its initial stages and the property has not been purchased yet.
The Waldoboro Planning Board approved a proposal from another developer to build a 10-acre solar farm on North Nobleboro Road in March.