16-acre solar farm would run alongside Rockland Street (Route 17)

Planning Board mulls over proposed solar project in Rockport

Fri, 11/22/2019 - 5:00pm

The Rockport Planning Board conducted a pre-application review of a proposal to develop a 16-acre parcel of land near Mace’s Pond along Route 17 into a 2-megawatt solar farm. Dale Knapp, a principal at Boyle Associates, environmental consultants based in Portland, spoke on behalf of the project along with Chris Byers, senior program manager in the company’s solar division.

“The project is the result of LD 1711 which seeks to promulgate small, distributed generation solar projects across the state,” said Knapp.

He said that the electrical power generated would be interconnected via a “three-phase” system along Route 17 (Rockland Street.) 

Knapp and Boyle Associates were hired by Pine Gate Renewables of Ashville, North Carolina. While Pine Gate is the developer, the applicant name/principal listed on the application filed at the Rockport Town Office is Samoset Solar, LLC. Knapp said his goal was to ensure that attention was paid to any wetland habitat in the area and the project would result in a “quiet neighbor” by completion.

“We’re hoping to get through municipal permitting by early spring of next year, obviously then there is some procurement that happens as far as power delivery during the course of next year, then probably targeting operation by late 2020, early 2021,” said Knapp of the project’s timeline, if approved.

The property where the solar farm would be built is on 46 acres under the ownership of Lexi Krause, and falls under the town’s 908 district in Rockport’s Land Use Ordinance. Section 908.1 of the ordinance reads “the purpose of the 908 district is to preserve natural resources while allowing development which is sensitive to lake water quality, wildlife habitat, scenic vistas, steep slopes and ridge lines to encourage the continuation of resource-based opportunities including blueberry production, farming and woodland management.”

To site the solar farm, Pine Gate Real Estate LLC, also based in Ashville, North Carolina, would lease up to 46 acres from landowner Krause for an initial 246 months with four successive renewal terms of five years each.

See attached PDF for full application and lease agreement, or click here.

Knapp said that although the solar array would be owned by a private entity, the power generated would be distributed through the Maine Public Utilities Commission. He said that the property, which is now primarily forest, would maintain a buffer of trees around the solar array to offer a screen between the solar farm and any abutting residences; Knapp said he had not yet spoken to the homeowners on neighboring parcels.

“What we had planned after meeting with the town’s Code Enforcement Officer was getting in here to do a pre-application [before the Planning Board] and a likely next step would be to hold a community meeting...this is sort of a temperature check – is the town interested in seeing this continue to move this project forward – we’re hoping that’s the case, then likely publish in the PenBay Pilot so someone could read about it on their computer and invite by mail residents to come in and ask us specific questions,” said Knapp.

A diagram submitted by Boyle Associates depicts the solar array within a 12-acre fenced portion of the property. Knapp said that unlike other solar farms in the state, the solar panels in this project would be placed in the ground via i-beams rather than on large concrete ballasted bases, thereby keeping more of the ground and vegetation exposed. The highest point of any of the solar panels would be between 10 and 11 feet. 

“What are some of the objections you’ve run into, in other words, why would we not be in favor of this,” asked board member John Viehman.

“Education is a big part of getting solar across the ‘go line,’” said Beyers.

“One concern that comes up here a lot in Maine is the loss of agricultural land to solar development. The other concern sometimes is storm water with these kind of facilities being installed [people] are concerned that those solar panels will concentrate run-off and then you’ll have sediment detachment and transportation off site. I’ve worked with [the Maine Department of Environmental Protection] a lot on this and they don’t consider the panels themselves to be an impervious surface, and the key in shifting away from a ballasted foundation and keeping a meadow underneath that you don’t mow any more than twice a year means that in and of itself is storm water treatment,” said Knapp.

Chairman Joe Sternowski said some of his concerns about the project included potential glare from the panels and any impact on wildlife.

“Because of the magnitude of this I think it would be reasonable to look at abutters who would be in view of this vista and what it would look like. So those would be my things – I don’t expect you to have answers to all these things tonight, but if you did come back and address these those would be good things to address,” said Sternowski.

“We’re happy to address them now if it’s helpful,” said Beyers.

“Do you want the information now, or do you want to wait,” asked Sternowski of his fellow board members.

“Let’s wait,” said Viehman.

Knapp said he hoped to organize a community education meeting on the proposed solar farm in mid December or early January. The next meeting of the Rockport Planning Board is Thursday, Dec. 19, at 5:30 p.m. at the Rockport Opera House.