Ranger Solar Proposes Large, Utility-Scale Solar Project in Farmington
From The Portland Press Herald
July 13, 2016
By Lauren Abbate
FARMINGTON — A Yarmouth-based energy company is in the early stages of bringing a utility-scale solar farm to Farmington that could break ground in 2018 and eclipse the size of any solar installation now operating in Maine.
Ranger Solar is conducting environmental studies on undeveloped land on Farmington Falls Road with the hopes of creating a 50- to 80-megawatt solar farm, project manager Aaron Svedlow said.
Svedlow would not confirm a published report that the project is planned for Sandy River Farms on Farmington Falls Road, but farm owner Bussie York said Wednesday that it is his land that Ranger Solar is working to develop.
York said Ranger Solar approached him more than a year ago with interest in using his land, and he said crews have been out conducting the environmental studies recently. Since the scope of the project is still relatively unknown, York did not know where exactly the project would be on his 600-acre organic dairy and crop business on U.S. Route 2.
Ranger also is going ahead with a smaller 10- to 20-megawatt solar project in Winslow that was put on hold in November when lease negotiations with a Heywood Road land owner fell through. However, Svedlow said Wednesday that the Winslow project is moving forward with different landowners, though the delay has put the smaller-scale project behind the timeline of the Farmington project. He would not say where in Winslow the project is being moved.
Solar Ranger now is working only on the Farmington and Winslow projects in central Maine, but also has a 50-megawatt project being built in Sanford.
A solar farm requires about 5 acres per megawatt, Svedlow said. For the Farmington project, that means roughly 250 acres would be needed.
While the project still has a long way to go before it could break ground, York said the company has been great to work with.
“They seem to be a very solid company that has a lot of interest for outreach to the public,” York said.
An exact number of panels that would be needed for the project are not yet known, but Svedlow said upward of 90,000 to 100,000 panels are likely.
Svedlow said money to decommission the site once its lifespan is over is included in the project costs, though specific numbers for Farmington aren’t available. A project the size of the Farmington one has a lifespan of up to 40 years.
“We’re very much committed to working with the town to make sure the project is a good fit for the community,” Svedlow said.
Ranger Solar has been meeting with town officials and landowners since last year, though no formal permitting applications have been filed for the project.
“We’re still working through the environmental studies for the project, and once those are completed, we’ll have a better understanding of the scope,” Svedlow said. “We’re stepping into this sort of gradually.”
Once a project plan is completed, Ranger Solar will bring it formally before the Farmington Board of Selectmen and the Maine Department of Environmental Protection, which Svedlow said could happen by late fall.
Farmington’s zoning ordinance does not include regulations for solar development, but the Office of the Code Enforcement Officer has drafted an amendment to the ordinance that seeks to “regulate the permitting of residential, commercial and industrial solar energy systems.”
Originally the draft amendment was on the agenda for consideration a July 26 special town meeting, but Town Manager Richard Davis said the proposed amendment first must be presented to selectmen at a meeting that would include a public hearing. To advance the proposed amendment in an orderly way, Davis pulled consideration of it from the July 26 agenda and will set a date for the amendment to go before selectmen in late summer or fall.
Once it passes through the Board of Selectmen, a special town meeting would be scheduled for final approval by voters.
Ranger Solar is moving forward in Sanford with the construction of what is says is the largest solar farm in the state — a 50-megawatt project on 226 acres. In May the Sanford City Council authorized a lease agreement that will allow Ranger Solar to use land at the municipal airport to build the project.
The utility-scale projects planned by Ranger Solar far surpass large private projects in the state in size. For instance, a project planned for Colby College that would have 1.9-megawatt capacity would have 5,505 panels on 4.5 acres, and the project touted as the biggest one currently running in the state, at Bowdoin College, has 4,420 panels with a capacity of 1.2 megawatts.
Svedlow said the Farmington project would be more in line with the scale of the solar farm underway in Sanford.
The land in Farmington is a good candidate for development because of its proximity to an existing electrical grid, meaning a long transmission line would not have to be installed to hook the farm up to the grid, Svedlow said.
With a utility-scale solar farm, the electricity generated from the solar panels would be channeled to the electrical grid and sold commercially.
According to the Solar Industries Association, the national average number of homes that can be powered by 1 megawatt of photovoltaic energy powers is 164, although that number varies from state to state.