The massive 490-acre, $110 million solar farm at Sandy River Farms, lower left, is nearing completion at 560 Farmington Falls Road in Farmington. Farmington Solar, a subsidiary of NextEra Energy Resources, is erecting 300,000 solar panels on land rented from owner Bussie York. Farmington will receive about $20 million in taxes during the course of the 30-year lease. Russ Dillingham/Sun Journal

FARMINGTON — Selectmen on Tuesday night decided to consult the town’s attorney on whether voters can authorize a moratorium on solar farms.

Clearwater Solar Partners, in care of Allen Tate of West Lebanon, New Hampshire, submitted an application for a solar farm Monday, the third one the town has received in three years. The proposed location is the former Nusman farm on Routes 2 and 27, the Farmington Falls Road, near the intersection with Davis Road. About 33 of the 240 acres owned by Bill Stasiowski and Anne Myers of West Newbury, Massachusetts, would be used.

Eight landowners on Davis Road would be affected by the project. One, Adrian Harris, said he learned of the project two weeks ago.

Some abutters to the proposed site attended the Zoning Board meeting Oct. 20 to discuss the project but the board took no action.

Speaking for abutters, Rob Martin asked selectmen to approve changing the setback for solar farms from 75 to 500 feet from abutting properties.

“That’s what we would love to have happen,” he said. “If that’s not possible we would at least like to stop the momentum.”

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Martin suggested instituting a moratorium.

Reasons included having a plan suitable for all landowner rights and lessening environmental impacts. For example, it could be something similar to setbacks and stipulations in the town’s marijuana ordinance.

“We can’t stop it,” Board of Selectmen Chairman Matthew Smith said. He said he talked with Steven Kaiser, head of the town Code Enforcement and Planning Office, Monday morning. Changes may be made for future projects if the town wishes but not for this one, Smith said.

A map shows Farmington Falls Road where developers propose building a solar farm on farmland. Landowners on Davis Road told selectmen Tuesday they’re concerned about it being near their properties. Google Maps

“Let’s not call it a done deal, let’s pursue it with attorneys,” Martin said. “I think we need to slow it down. We don’t need another Bussie York (solar farm). I don’t want to repeat that. Find a way to let the town have some control.”

Martin was referring to the massive 490-acre, $110 million solar farm nearing completion at York’s Sandy River Farms at 560 Farmington Falls Road. The farm is renting about 500 acres for the 300,000 solar panels to builder Farmington Solar, a subsidiary of NextEra Energy Resources, headquartered in Juno Beach, Florida. The town will receive about $20 million in taxes during the 30-year lease.

The Planning Board issued the developer permits in November 2018. The project, billed then as the largest of its kind in New England, is expected to be completed this year.

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A second solar farm is also in the works. Voters last November approved leasing a section of the former landfill at 152 Dump Road. Boulevard Associates will own, build and operate the solar array, known as Farmington Landfill DG Solar Energy Center. It will lease 25 acres for $1,250 per acre for 20 years. The town will receive about $31,250 per year. The project is also taxable.

“Boulevard Associates is an affiliate of NextEra Energy Resources,” Town Manager Richard Davis said in an email last month. “The landfill project, however, is completely separate from NextEra’s Farmington Solar project currently under construction.”

At Monday’s meeting, Smith told Martin he appreciated that he wanted to slow down the momentum.

“Where the application has already been put in, it’s my belief we can’t, Smith said. “Not on this project. I don’t have enough facts in front of me.”

Selectman Joshua Bell said selectmen can confer with the town’s attorney about a moratorium since Adrian Harris did make a request of the Zoning Board prior to the application being submitted.

“We can’t change the Zoning Ordinance,” he said. “It’s not so cut and dried.”

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Martin thought the town had known for some time that the solar project was coming.

“I didn’t know about this until a Zoning Board member called me,” Bell said.

Planning Board member Judith Murphy said she learned about it when she attended the Oct. 20 Zoning Board meeting.

The Planning Board will consider the application at its next meeting. It’s not in a position to just refuse it. The board needs a reason, she said.

“I heard about this yesterday,” Selectman Scott Landry said. “It amazes me that they can be working on this project and no one knows about it.”

The Zoning Board didn’t do its job, Smith said. “Down the road I’m hoping we can get this so everyone’s happy. Obviously farmers aren’t making it. Personally I would rather see this than houses.”


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