AUGUSTA — City councilors voted to ban development of any large solar energy projects anywhere in the city for the next 180 days.

Councilors said constituents have contacted them with concerns both about the aesthetics of some recently-developed solar projects and with the proliferation of them. Projects have increased in number statewide after changes to state law encouraged their development.

The ordinance would ban — for the next 180 days — any construction, development or consideration by city officials of solar energy systems of 15,000 square feet or larger. The ordinance went into effect Thursday following a unanimous City Council vote.

“Absolutely nobody I talked to is against renewable energy, because that’s obviously the future of our existence,” said Ward 3 City Councilor Mike Michaud.

Michaud said he has heard more from constituents in the last two weeks about solar panels than he has heard from constituents on all other issues during his one-and-a-half years on the council.

“But it’s the aesthetics, coming into town from different egresses, the first thing people see are solar panels,” he said. “I personally, and other people have said this too, I don’t want Augusta to be the solar power capital of Maine.

“There has to be an amicable way we can work with these companies so there is as much camoflauge as there can be,” Michaud added. “We want to have the best aesthetics we can.”

Multiple city councilors said they’ve heard from residents unhappy with the appearance of a large solar project off Route 3, which councilors referred to as the Board of Trade project. Since that project is already permitted and constructed, it would not be subject to the moratorium.

Robert Cleaves, co-founder and principal investor of Portland-based Dirigo Solar, which developed the Board of Trade solar farm and also has a solar project on Church Hill Road currently before the Planning Board for review, said the firm is willing to work with the city to address additional measures it could take at its sites to address Augusta’s concerns.

Cleaves said those concerns could be addressed without a moratorium and asked for the temporary ban to be put in place for only 90 days. He also asked councilors to consider his company, which he said is the largest developer of utility scale solar in Maine, a resource for the city as officials look to make rule changes aimed at requiring improved aesthetics at solar sites.

Cleaves noted Dirigo Solar’s two projects in Augusta, the constructed one on Route 3 and the proposed one on Church Hill Road, were the result of awards the firm was granted by the state Public Utilities Commission to provide up to 75 megawatts of electricity, enough to power 10,000 homes. And that the firm followed the state’s and city’s rules in developing both of them. Rules he hopes the city won’t now change just before their Church Hill Road project is ready for approval.

“The Church Hill project, which we started in 2018, and in which we’ve invested almost a half-million dollars, we went into the project with an understanding that solar was a permitted use,” Cleaves told city councilors Thursday. “We’re hoping, in this solar moratorium process, if the council were to choose to adopt it, that the focus of the discussion be around performance standards and best management processes and making sure the city has standards in place that are protective of the city and competing uses. As opposed to an outright ban on solar.”

He said the firm’s deal to develop a solar energy system with the Church Hill property owner expires at the end of the year, which he said wouldn’t leave the firm enough time to complete the project in time, if they can’t do anything for 180 days due to the moratorium.

City councilors sought to assure Cleaves the city’s goal is not to ban solar projects, but to regulate their appearance more strictly. They agreed the city should move as quickly as possible to review the city’s current solar development rules and make changes to them. But councilors declined to reduce the length of the moratorium to less than the proposed 180 days.

“We don’t want anyone to think of Augusta as business unfriendly, and we heard you when you said you’ve invested time and money into this and this wasn’t the landscape when you started,” At Large Councilor Raegan LaRochelle said. “So I think we’re all on the same page and working for the same goal. We can work hard to try to get this done so everyone can get their timeframes met.”

Councilors approved the moratorium Thursday in only its first reading. Normally two readings are required before councilors vote on such proposals, but councilors voted unanimously to waive the second reading and pass the moratorium as an emergency measure.

Related Headlines


Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.