By Rachel Ohm Morning Sentinel
FARMINGTON — The Planning Board granted five permits Tuesday to the company proposing a 490-acre, 77-megawatt solar project off U.S. Route 2, clearing one of the last major hurdles before construction of the project can begin.
“I really respect the obligation you feel to the citizens of the town,” Liz Peyton, project manager for NextEra’s Farmington solar project, told the board shortly after the decision.
“You all are a partner in this, and this sets a really strong foundation going forward.”
The board voted 4-2 to approve the five permits for which NextEra has applied in order to build the project. Board members David Robbins and Lloyd Smith were dissenters on each permit, and board member Craig Jordan was absent.
Smith said he was not against the project but said he wanted to see more information on its tax benefits before making a decision. He also expressed concerns during the meeting about its impact on wildlife.
Robbins, meanwhile, said he did not have concerns, but did not want to vote to approve the project if another board member did not feel ready.
Earlier in the evening, Peyton updated the board on questions that have arisen over the last several months as the permits have been under consideration.
She said she had met with the town attorney to agree on final language for a decommissioning bond at the end of the project’s life or if it’s not successful, something that had previously been a concern for the board.
“I think we’re both satisfied with the intention of the bond and its function as an additional layer of security,” Peyton said.
NextEra has also been in touch with residents of Stanwood Park Circle and Horn Hill Road, two areas in the vicinity of the project where neighbors have expressed concerns.
“We’ve followed up with neighbors,” Peyton said. “Those conversations are ongoing and we want the board to know we’ve been having those discussions.”
The $110 million project, which the company says would be the largest solar project in New England, is estimated to bring in about an additional $2 million in annual tax revenue to the town of Farmington.
Peyton said Tuesday she also met with Town Manager Richard Davis about the tax revenue generated by the project and will be following up with the town assessor to help the town get an idea of what the income from the project will look like over its lifetime.
NextEra is anticipating a construction start date by 2019 with completion in 2020. In addition to the local permits, the project has also been approved by the Maine Department of Environmental Protection.
It will also require crossing permits from either the town or the Maine Department of Transportation to intersect U.S. Route 2. Peyton said the company is also working with Central Maine Power on a system impact study and to determine how electricity from the project will be absorbed by CMP.
“We’re thrilled,” she said. “This is the largest solar project in New England, and the first of this size to be permitted in the state. It’s a great day.”