WATERVILLE —  A proposed solar farm on Webb Road moved a step closer to approval this week as the Planning Board voted unanimously to recommend the City Council rezone the property.

But Leo St. Peter, who owns the 27 acres on which the solar farm would be located, still needs approval from the council to rezone part of his land from general industrial to solar farm district. At least one Planning Board member also questioned whether the project could have disqualifying impacts on wildlife.

St. Peter also needs an easement to build an access road over city property so trucks can carry materials to his property to build the array; final approval from the Planning Board; and a permit from the state Department of Environmental Protection.

The board considered informal plans Tuesday for the solar farm under the city’s new solar farm regulations recommended recently by the board and approved last month by the City Council.

St. Peter, owner of Arbor Technologies LLC, and Scott Tempel of Novel Energy Solutions LLC, told the board the array would be a 725-kilowatt “solar garden” hooked into a grid and it would serve as a subscription base for local people to decrease their energy costs.

St. Peter’s parcel proposed for the solar array is long and narrow and it would be installed at the north end and connect through an access road over Airport Road, Tempel said.


A Central Maine Power Co. transmission main crosses St. Peter’s property and the solar farm would be built north of that. St. Peter is asking the city to rezone only that part of the property where the solar array would be.

To the north of the solar farm site is city-owned property and Airport Road. The power grid the solar array must be hooked into is at the end of Airport Road. The road would be built on the easement there and power poles installed.

Tempel said they are looking to get an easement to connect to the stub of Airport Road and an access road made of gravel would be about 600 feet. There would be no traffic to the solar array except when it is being built and materials must be dropped off there, Tempel said. Work and utility trucks will need access, according to Tempel. There will be no clearing of trees, he said, and the site will be “pretty well hidden from view.”

“If the city did not grant the easement, is there an alternate way to connect those panels to the grid?” Board member Tom DePre asked.

“I don’t know if there’s any viable alternatives,” Tempel said.

Meanwhile, board member April Chiriboga noted that, if significant wildlife or endangered species are found on the property, the proposal could be disqualified. But St. Peter said any nonpaved surface in the state is going to have wildlife and any solar array installed in a field will have birds and mice.


“Right, but certain birds and wildlife have certain protections and actually have certain land cover types that are different than others,” Chiriboga said.

St. Peter said his property is surrounded by a solar farm built by Oakland and another one at the Waterville airport — both of which are larger than his would be.

“I don’t think I have any special birds or special wildlife in my area that those two don’t have,” he said.

Chiriboga persisted, asking St. Peter if he is a birder.

“I actually am,” he said. “I spent four years at Unity College studying forestry and I can probably name more birds than most people.”

Tempel said a full environmental study will be done which would include any determination of wildlife impacts. “We’ll have a big report on that that we’ll include with the application,” he said.


Chiriboga said she is two minds on the matter: first, she said, converting the land from industrial to solar is “far more conservation-friendly,” yet the city just wrote new rules for solar farms “and we shouldn’t be running afoul of it.”

Burdick noted that the environmental and wildlife impact would come into play more as the board does the final plan review. Any wetlands, vernal pools and wildlife must be identified as part of the study, she said.

City Planner Ann Beverage said Wednesday that the council meets next on Wednesday, April 3, and would consider the rezoning request. Two-thirds of the number of councilors present must vote in favor for the rezoning to be finalized.

The solar farm district requires that if such an array is not built within a certain amount of time, the zoning reverts to its previous zone, in this case, general industrial.

Board member Cassie Julia was absent from Tuesday’s meeting, resulting in a 6-0 vote in favor of recommending the rezoning request.

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