CAMDEN — The Town of Camden is pursuing an idea to build a large solar farm on a former Superfund site in South Hope, a 12-acre parcel that has been deleted from the federal Environmental Protection Agency’s Superfund National Priorities List in 2018 but still carries a list of development restrictions.
Exiting a closed-door meeting May 21, the Camden Select Board unanimously agreed to make a $1 offer on the land, which is currently listed for sale with a $60,000 price tag, and is owned by the State of Maine’s Dept. of Financial and Administrative Services.
The land is currently tax exempt and is off Hope’s list of property tax generators. It is in South Hope, near Pushaw’s Trading Post and the intersection of Route 17 and Fogler Road.
The Camden Select Board motion reads: “For the Town Manager to submit a conditional offer to the Maine Department of Financial and Administrative Services in the amount of $1 to purchase the Union Chemical Inc. superfund site, for the purpose of locating a solar farm in order to fulfill the Town of Camden’s commitment to the Global Covenant of Mayors to significantly reduce carbon emissions.”
On May 22, Camden Town Manager Audra Clear-Bell wrote to Maine’s commissioner of financial services, making Camden’s offer and explaining that, “as the first municipality in the State of Maine to join the Global Covenant of Mayors for Climate and Energy, Camden is committed to drastically reducing our emissions by generating energy through renewable sources, particularly solar.”
Caler-Bell said Camden has been searching for suitable land in Camden and surrounding communities on which to build a solar farm, land that has the capacity to help generate at least 1.5 megawatts of power.
Currently, Camden has solar panels at the town-owned Sagamore Farms, on Route 1 north, and bounded by the Camden Hills State Park, but it is limited in usability.
Camden’s plan is to locate, “a solar farm of up to 3.5 megawatts on this [Union Chemical] property has the potential to transform a site that has had tragic environmental consequences for the State of Maine into a site that actively contributes to addressing climate change, the most urgent environmental issue of our time.”
Caler-Bell said, in a conversation, that the offer and planning are in preliminary phases, but that Camden hopes to further talk with area communities about making a solar farm a regional effort.
“We’ve been thinking this is a great opportunity for Camden to partner with other communities to do other solar farms,” she said.
The genesis of the idea to approach the state about the Union Chemical land, “came about after a lot of brainstorming amongst energy committee members, staff and the select board regarding sites that are well suited for solar,” said Caler-Bell.
Camden’s state representatives have been supportive of the idea, she said, as has Hannah Pingree, who is now leading the state’s Office of Policy Management with the specific charge of developing a framework to transition it into the Office of Innovation and the Future.
That directive came via Governor Janet Mills, upon her assuming office in January.
As for local governmental interest, Caler-Bell said, “there have been informal conversations and there is interest.”
She added that the state government might be interested in the possibilities.
“Since this is going to rely on flexibility and collaboration with state government, could they want to partner in more significant way?” she ventured.
The South Hope land, she said, could accommodate the production of 3.5 megawatts of power to annually feed back into the grid.
“That’s a lot of energy,” she said.
In her offer to the State of Maine, Caler-Bell wrote: “The town wants this project to be an example for Maine of how local and state government can work collaboratively to increase solar power generation and substantially reduce emissions, without compromising arable land.”
She added that Camden would offer Maine a portion of Central Maine Power credits from power generated at the South Hope site and would install electric car charging stations there, given the location on the Route 17 arterial highway, which is a primary commuter road to Augusta.
Next steps, said Caler-Bell, involve waiting for the state’s response, “and what they are going to do with our offer,” she said.
“This is a little different, because we are asking them to be a little more opened minded because the property is listed for $60,000 and we offered $1,” she said.
If the state is receptive, the town will pursue conducting due diligence on real estate acquisition and preparing a proposal to take to Camden voters.
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