WATERVILLE — A solar farm will be developed at Robert LaFleur Airport after the City Council this week took a final vote to authorize City Manager Steve Daly to finalize a lease for the project.

The lease with MEVS Energy Waterville LLC will be for 20 years and is contingent on an initial payment to the city of $250,000 and a second $250,000 payment due as part of an agreement with Cenergy Power, also known as BAP Power Corp., of Carlsbad, California.

As part of the plan, proceeds from the lease will be set aside in a special account for airport development.

The solar farm will be developed on several acres of land at the city-owned airport off Airport Road, near the northwest side of the main runway.

Tuesday’s 6-0 vote followed a lengthy discussion that started when Daly reported that MEVS will pay the city $1,600 a month in rent, the up-front payment of $250,000 and the additional $250,000 when the solar farm is operational.

City Solicitor William A. Lee III said that if MEVS decides during the development of the site that the project is not economically feasible, it has the option to terminate the lease. The site would be decommissioned and the second $250,000 would not have to be paid, he said.

His assessment drew concern from Mayor Jay Coelho, who said that the deal had been negotiated such that the city would get the second $250,000 regardless of whether the farm goes into operation. He said what Lee described didn’t “sound like a very good deal for us.” Daly concurred.

“That was my understanding as well, and apparently I misunderstood,” Daly said.

Lee said the city has a separate $150,000 bond for decommissioning the farm. Councilor Claude Francke, D-Ward 6, noted that if the farm does not become operational, another company could come in and develop one there.

“The city’s actually ahead on this, whether they become operational or not,” he said.

The solar farm must be operational in about two years, according to the agreement.

Daly asked that the order the council was to vote on be amended to say the lease would be executed without condition and the second $250,000 payment is guaranteed, regardless of what happens.

Chad Chahbazi, vice president of project development at Cenergy Power, said the company has been working on the project for about two years with city officials and plans to start building the solar farm immediately after signing the lease. The farm is expected to be completed by the end of next year, according to Chahbazi. He said his company has developed more than 400 projects in the country and none have defaulted. He said the company is ready to sign the lease.

“The chances of the second payment not being made is minimal to none,” Chahbazi said.

At that point, Council Chairman Erik Thomas, D-Ward 7, said he did not know how such a misunderstanding could occur concerning the payment.

“In the middle of a council meeting is no time to negotiate a contract,” Thomas said.

Councilors discussed another agenda item while Chahbazi consulted with the chief executive of the solar company. He returned to the meeting and said the executive was agreeable to an amendment that says the second payment would be guaranteed. Councilors voted unanimously to amend the language in the order and then voted to approve the order as amended.

In other matters Tuesday, the council voted to spend $150,000 of federal COVID-19 relief funds to pay bonuses to city employees for their work during the pandemic; $400,000 in COVID-19 money to the Mid-Maine Homeless Shelter; and $50,000 for one year for Operation HOPE, a police program that helps place people addicted to opioids into treatment facilities.


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