A solar field is being proposed for the grassy field behind the sign for the Skowhegan Solid Waste Management Facility. The field is on top of an old landfill. Rich Abrahamson/Morning Sentinel

SKOWHEGAN — A public hearing to discuss a proposed solar ordinance and solar project at a former landfill is scheduled next month prior to a special town meeting vote.

On Tuesday, Aug. 10, public hearings are scheduled for the Planning Board Ordinance, Utility Scale Solar Energy Facility Ordinance and the Ground Lease Agreement with BD Solar Skowhegan LLC. The hearings will be held at the regular scheduled Board of Selectmen meeting. The meeting will begin at 5:30 p.m. in the Council Room of the Municipal Building.

A special town meeting to vote on the items is then scheduled for Tuesday, Aug. 24 at 7 p.m.

Dirigo Solar has proposed a solar project, which would be built on top of the closed landfill at 29 Transfer Station Drive.

At Tuesday’s Board of Selectmen meeting, Bob Cleaves, CEO of Dirigo Solar, spoke briefly about the project as well as other similar projects that the energy company is working on.

“Closed landfills are a great home for solar,” Cleaves said. “You can’t do anything on a closed landfill other than look at it. For certain landfills that have the right topography, the right grade and are close enough to electrical infrastructure, it makes a lot of sense.”

The Skowhegan Landfill Solar project anticipates a 2-megawatt solar farm on approximately 10 acres of land. The $3 million investment is expected to provide additional income sources to the town, including revenue from the property lease and property taxes.

The project would be tapping into an existing distribution network on Steward Hill Road and would feed into the Skowhegan North Side Substation. The town as well as local businesses and homes would also be able to purchase power directly from this project.

Dirigo Solar, a Portland-based company founded in 2015, is proposing the Skowhegan project and has completed several solar projects around the state. Their largest solar project to date, Cleaves said, is a 26-megawatt solar project on 100 acres, a $30 million investment. Other projects have been completed in Oxford and Fairfield. Similar projects are under development in neighboring communities, including Winslow, Oakland, Sidney and Norridgewock.

Cleaves said more solar projects are happening in Maine because it is becoming “the most affordable source of electricity now, which I couldn’t say even a couple years ago.”

The development timeline on the project include an interconnection permitting process.

The technology for this project has been used for decades on home rooftops, calculators and on top of oil storage facilities. The materials are reportedly nontoxic and nonhazardous. Additionally, the company reports no negative visual impacts, no moving parts or noise, and no additional traffic in the area.

In a separate matter to be considered at the upcoming special town meeting, the Utility Scale Solar Energy Facility Ordinance defines the town’s procedure and standards for utility scale solar facilities. Under the ordinance, any qualifying solar energy facility must receive a permit from the town’s Planning Board. Facilities occupying 800 square feet or less are exempt from the ordinance, though they must also meet state electrical codes and permitting requirements.

A utility scale solar energy facility is defined as “any solar facility, project or installation which is intended to/or in fact does generate solar power” and feeds power into the electric grid.

This ordinance will serve as an additional level of review along with the Site Plan Review Ordinance. A list of application requirements are detailed in the proposed solar ordinance, including a permit/technical review fee be set by the Board of Selectmen to be paid at the time of an application; a description of the owner of the facility/operator be provided as well as their qualifications and track record to run the facility; and a description of the energy to be produced and who it will be sold to, among other requirements.

ANIMAL CONTROL OFFICER PAY

In other business, selectmen were split Tuesday on whether to approve a proposal that would raise the pay for animal control officers from $12.15 per hour to $15 per hour, effective Aug. 1.

Ultimately, the majority of the board amended the rate to $14 before approval, after much discussion about the item.

A memo sent to the board from the town’s police chief suggested setting the rate to $15, citing the responsibilities of the job and average pay around the state. The chief also cited the June retirement of the town’s former longtime animal control officer, Sharon Kinney.

“The job of an ACO is much more difficult than one would think,” Police Chief David Bucknam wrote in the memo. “They are constantly put in situations where they could be bitten by an aggressive animal, assaulted by a pet owner as well as coming into trace contact with illegal drugs at residences and being on call 24 hours a day.”

Now, Cara Mason, executive secretary and Skowhegan Opera House manager, and Nancy Weis, administrative assistant at the Police Department, serve as the town’s animal control officers.

Town Manager Christine Almand said Wednesday that around 270 hours were documented by the animal control officers in Skowhegan, averaging about five hours a week. Different times of year are busier for the officers; the number of hours worked each week varied. Additionally, the officers are expected to use their own vehicles when responding to calls.

Selectmen Charles Robbins suggested lowering the hourly rate to $14 an hour, citing that the jump from $12.15 to $15 is “pretty big” and instead the board should come to a compromise.

Selectmen Paul York was in support of the $15 an hour and said that given the lack of interest for the position and the responsibilities of the job. Additionally, though the officers do receive a gas mileage reimbursement, this does not cover any repairs that may be needed on their personal vehicles.

The majority of the board ultimately decided against the $15 hourly rate and amended the change to reflect a raise from $12.15 an hour to $14, with all but York in favor.

Town Clerk Gail Pelotte reported Tuesday that nomination papers for the vacancy on the Board of Selectmen are still available and must be returned by Friday at 4:30 p.m. The town will then hold a special election for the seat Aug. 31 from 7 a.m. until 8 p.m. Whoever is elected to fill the position will hold it for the rest of the seat’s original term, until June 2022.

The seat has been vacant since June 16, after Betty Austin resigned from the position because she was moving out of town.

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