WASHINGTON, Maine — A plan to erect nearly 3,000 solar panels in a field in a rural Knox County community has prompted town officials to propose a moratorium on such projects.
Voters will decide whether to enact a 180-day moratorium at a special town meeting scheduled for 7 p.m. Monday, April 6, at the town office. That is eight days before the formal plan is to be reviewed by the town’s planning board.
Code Enforcement Officer Robert Temple said the Maine Municipal Association has told the town that this is a unique project for Maine.
Lisa Smith, senior planner for the governor’s energy office, said Monday she is not aware of any commercial solar projects in Maine on the scale of the one in Washington. Maine Public Utilities Commission spokesman Harry Lanphear said such a project would not need approval from that agency. David Madore, spokesman for the Maine Department of Environmental Protection, said a representative for the project contacted the agency but has not provided any information for the agency to know what type of approval is needed.
The property — located on Old Union Road across from the town office — is owned by Washington Properties Inc. and its principal George Stone of Clarksville, Maryland. Washington Properties owns nearly 9 acres. Stone also owns the Medomak Campground in that town.
Selectman Duane Vigue said the moratorium is being proposed to allow the planning board time to conduct research since the town has no standards for reviewing a solar panel farm. He said the project would be located in the middle of the historic district of town and the town wants to make sure it does not hurt the neighbors.
Planning board member James Bowers disagreed with the selectman, however, saying the town’s site location rules in its land use ordinance contemplate reviewing large proposals such as a solar farm using the general standards for stormwater control, glare, noise and other things.
Stone could not be reached for comment Monday. Kane Coffin of Coffin Engineering in Augusta, which represented Stone at a planning board meeting in early March, referred questions to Stone.
Vigue said he understands that the project would provide electricity for Stone’s campground, with any remainder sold to the regional power grid.
The project would be one of the largest in Maine. Last year, Bowdoin College broke ground in July 2014 on a project that would consist of 4,500 solar panels and generate 1.2 megawatts of electricity. The Bowdoin College news release stated that its project would be seven times larger than any other solar project in Maine.
Washington is located halfway between Rockland and Augusta on Route 17 with a population of 1,525, according to the 2010 U.S. Census. The town consists of several small villages, including Washington Village where the solar farm is proposed.