WINSLOW — The Town Council is proposing new rules for medium-sized solar energy projects in recognition of the growing popularity of the energy for residents and businesses.

The council on Monday is set to take an initial vote to add medium-scale principal energy systems to the town’s zoning rules. Meanwhile, a solar developer that planned a large $25 million array in Winslow says it still is considering a project in town after a lease deal fell through with a property owner on Heywood Road.

The town defines a medium-scale system as one that generates 10 to 250 kilowatts of electricity and is not larger than 19,500 square feet. Rooftop-mounted solar panels, such as those on personal residences, usually can generate up to 10 kilowatts. Owners of those systems need only to get a electrical permit from the town.

The new rules would apply to larger ground- and roof-mounted solar arrays that might generate power for a small business, or so-called community solar farms, where a group of 10 or fewer people get together to invest in a single solar project and reduce their electrical costs at home.

Solar energy is increasingly popular in Maine as the technology becomes more affordable, a trend that is likely to continue, Town Manager Michael Heavener said.

“We think there is an expectation that as costs come down for solar, it is likely more and more people will turn to solar to produce their own energy,” Heavener said.

Therefore, the town should develop some regulations to make sure any new projects are installed correctly, he said.

“Obviously, if someone is going to construct one, we want to make sure it is done properly, safely and in a manner that doesn’t interfere with abutting property owners,” he added.

The proposed regulations include a town permit that costs 50 cents per kilowatt to be produced, with a minimum $25 fee. The projects will need to be designed and built according to industry standards, they must be situated to eliminate concentrated glare onto buildings and roads nearby, and transmission lines and plumbing have to be underground, among other rules. There is no requirement that a project be placed in a particular zoning district.

The rules were proposed by a town committee established to come up with regulations for large utility-scale solar arrays, after Yarmouth-based Ranger Solar this summer proposed a 100-acre solar project that would generate 10 to 20 megawatts of electricity. The Town Council approved the regulations of utility-scale projects in October.

Ranger stepped back from plans to build the array on Heywood Road after negotiations with landowner Don Eskelund fell apart in November. In an interview with the Morning Sentinel, Eskelund said he was uncomfortable with the terms of the deal and felt the company had a “credibility gap.”

But Aaron Svedlow, Ranger’s director of environmental permitting, said in an interview this month that the lease terms offered to Eskelund were the same it has offered to landowners in other projects it has in Maine and Vermont.

“By and large, people have been happy with out terms and our approach,” he said.

Ranger still is examining sites for a possible array in Winslow. According to Heavener, who has been working with the company, Ranger representatives are planning to visit to look at potential development sites in town.

“I believe they have been very good to work with,” Heavener said.

Aside from its Winslow plans, Ranger also is working with the town of Sanford to build an array that’s of a size similar to the one that had been planned for Winslow, on 250 acres of unused industrial space at the Sanford Seacoast Regional Airport.

The Sanford City Council last month voted to enter into an option to lease the space, and it has a year to develop terms.

Allison Rogers, the airport manager, said Ranger approached the city about a possible solar installation in late spring, around the same time it started working in Winslow.

“They have been excellent to work with,” she said.

The 1,100-acre airport is zoned for commercial and industrial development, but unless the aeronautics industry takes off, the space will remain unused for the next 50 years, she said.

“We’re always looking for alternative revenue streams to make the airport self-sufficient,” Rogers said.

“A lot of the land that is considered surplus could be utilized by a solar firm,” she added.

Ranger also is proposing utility-scale projects in Vermont, where it has run into opposition from those in the energy sector and the state’s governor.

An analysis of Ranger’s proposed 20-megawatt project in Ludlow, Vermont, written by Synapse Energy Economics, estimated that the project could generate as much as $15 million in labor income and add $25 million to the state’s gross domestic product over the first 20 years of its operation.

Svedlow said that while the economics might be slightly different in Maine, a project of the same scale would have a similar impact.

There has been a rush on solar in the past year as people try to get projects in place to qualify for the 30 percent federal income tax credit offered for projects that are operational by the end of 2016.

But Ranger is pursuing its projects with independent financing and isn’t looking for subsidies or tax incentives, Svedlow said.

“This works here, This is our focus,” he said.

“We see a place in the market for it,” Svedlow said. “We think we can provide clean, effective, renewable power and bring new economic development to Maine.”

Peter McGuire — 861-9239

[email protected]

Twitter: @PeteL_McGuire


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