A jet takes off Friday above the area of an Augusta State Airport runway that is the proposed site of a solar power array. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal

AUGUSTA — The state plans to have a solar array developed at the Augusta State Airport to generate electricity that officials said could save Maine $6 million over 20 years.

But multiple city councilors are concerned power lines to bring electricity to and from the project could mar the forested lands around the airport, including the largely pristine Bond Brook Recreation Area. Others noted an easement through the recreation area could be of significant value to the state and developer of the project and said the city should negotiate it as such and seek to ensure the project has benefits to the city, not just the state.

The project would be a 7.5-megawatt development with ground-mounted solar panels, on an enclosed area of 18.42 acres, with solar arrays attached to a fixed tilt racking system with panels facing south, according to materials the state submitted to the city. It would be located on undeveloped, forested land north-east of the airport’s main runway. The project would feed electricity into the grid, offsetting the state’s electrical costs over the life of the 21-year lease with a private developer that would build, operate and maintain the system for the state.

“Not only will this initiative help reduce greenhouse gas emissions and Maine’s reliance on fossil fuels, but it will also help reduce the state’s electricity costs,” Paul Merrill, director of communications for the state Department of Transportation, said of the proposal. “The power put back into the grid from (the) airport array is estimated to save the state of Maine $6 million over a 20-year period. This project will benefit all Mainers — both environmentally and financially.”

The solar panels themselves would be out of sight from most areas of Augusta, according to Matt Nazar, development director for the city. But it would need to be connected to the electrical grid through power lines proposed to be installed through the city and volunteer group-developed Bond Brook Recreation Area. That has prompted concerns from councilors the project would be an eyesore and intrusion amidst the area’s forests, fields and recreational trails, concerns they suggested could be addressed by putting those power lines underground.

“I’m interested in the project if it meets all our needs and one of our needs are that it be underground,” said Ward 1 Councilor Linda Conti during an Oct. 28  discussion of the city potentially providing an easement through part of the recreation area officials said is needed to bring power to and from the site. Conti said the city should insist on the lines being underground from the start of any negotiations for an easement with the state and/or the project’s developer. “It lets them know they can’t run over us and, once again, use and abuse us and have the state get the benefit and the city get nothing.”


City Manager Susan Robertson sought input from councilors on whether she should indicate, to the developer, that the city would be willing to have talks about the easement to the site. She said if they weren’t at all interested in the project, the city wouldn’t need to entertain any such negotiations. Councilors indicated interest in the project, but said that interest would be much less if the power lines to the site are run above ground and visible along Tall Pines Way, the road through Bond Brook Recreation Area.

“I assumed it would be underground,” said At-Large Councilor Heather Pouliot of the power lines. “I am not as highly in favor of (it if it is) above ground. Honestly, it’s going to look terrible in our recreation area.”

Nazar said burying the lines underground would increase the cost of the project substantially. He said the developer of the project, for now, just needed some indication from city officials they would consider negotiating an easement, so the proposal can move forward and be reviewed by the Augusta Planning Board.

Nazar and Robertson said agreeing to negotiate does not obligate the city to provide an easement, or do anything.

Councilors voted 7-0 Thursday night to authorize Robertson to indicate to the developer that the city would be willing to at least discuss an easement, which could allow proposal to go to the Planning Board.

One reason the project has not yet gone to the board is it was among other proposed solar projects that were paused when the city enacted a moratorium on large solar developments, to give officials time to write more stringent rules regulating the aesthetics of large developments covered with solar panels. That moratorium was withdrawn last month after new solar development rules were approved by city councilors.


The new rules include a requirement that glare from solar panels be controlled, which board members said was especially important at the airport site, to avoid temporarily blinding pilots. The state’s application notes the project would limit glare and meet Federal Aviation Administration rules.

The Augusta State Airport is owned by the state but run by the city of Augusta, through an ongoing contract.

The developer of the project is MEVS ASA LLC, based in Carlsbad, California, and the developer and state are working with consultant Barrett Energy Resources Group of Concord, Massachusetts, on the approval process

Nazar said one potential benefit of the project to the city could be the three-phase power the proposal would bring about one-third of the way to part of the recreation where city recreation officials would like to have that power available, potentially to run snowmaking or other equipment in the four-season area.

The power line would come about 1,500 feet along Tall Pines Way, then veer off to go onto the airport property and connect to the proposed solar array.

Merrill said the project is expected to generate 9,000 megawatt hours of clean energy annually, power that will go back into the power grid.

Ward 2 Councilor Kevin Judkins, who is a real estate broker, said granting an easement to allow power to and from the site to come through the recreation area to the airport property could impact the appearance of that area, and any such easement granted should return value to the city.

“It’s going to affect the aesthetics of that area; it’s one of our prime recreational areas,” he said. “And then, also, having that type of access is a very valuable easement. So they should be understanding when they have those discussions with us.”

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