Blades on wind turbines nearly 500 feet tall rotate in the breeze in unorganized territory in eastern Hancock County, Maine on Monday, May 21, 2018. The turbines are near blueberry fields where a developer has proposed another renewable energy project in the form of a 100-megawatt solar farm. Credit: Bill Trotter

An energy development company is requesting a zoning change for more than 700 acres of blueberry fields in eastern Hancock County where it hopes to establish a 100-megawatt solar farm.

The site in Township 16, on land owned by Elliott Jordan & Son Inc., is roughly a mile away from a wind turbine that is part of Novatus Energy’s 51-megawatt Hancock Wind farm which, according to a report by Vox, has the tallest land-based wind turbines in the country. Electricity transmission lines owned by power distribution company Emera run through the proposed solar development site.

Project officials with Next Phase Energy Services LLC have submitted a petition to the Land Use Planning Commission, which oversees approval of development projects in Maine’s Unorganized Territory, to change the zoning of the property. More than 700 acres of the 1,115-acre property would have to be rezoned from a general classification to commercial for the development to be permitted, according to documents submitted to LUPC.

Samantha Horn, planning manager for LUPC, said Tuesday that the commission has not yet found the firm’s rezoning application to be complete, and so has not sent out any notices or scheduled the application for official review.

Horn said earlier this year, the commission changed its permitting standards for commercial solar operations so that eligible properties can be rezoned specifically for solar farms. Prior rules required solar farms to be built in areas in the Unorganized Territory already zoned for commercial or industrial uses, which made it “difficult” to get approval, she said.

Horn added that, as far as she knows, there are no other grid-scale solar farms proposed for development in Maine’s Unorganized Territory.

Dave Fowler, a former senior land manager for First Wind who now is head of Next Phase Energy Services, said Wednesday that the proposed solar farm, dubbed Three Rivers Solar, is a partnership between his firm and forestry company Elliott Jordan & Son Inc., both of which are small, family-run companies based in Maine.

If they get approval for the zoning change and then the needed permits from LUPC and the Maine Department of Environmental Protection, they would bring in a partner to provide the capital investment for developing the site, Fowler said.

“It’s a 2020 project,” Fowler said, referring to when it would be built. He added that building the solar farm is projected to require $120 million in capital investment.

The largest solar array currently active in Maine is Cianbro’s 9.9-megawatt project on Route 2 in Pittsfield, which was completed late last year. But bigger solar projects are on the horizon.

Installation of a 50-megawatt project planned for the Sanford Seacoast Regional Airport is expected to begin later this year, pending approval by state and municipal officials. An 80-megawatt solar project is planned in Farmington and another 100-megawatt project at a former military air base in Limestone.

According to ISO-New England, the nonprofit that manages the region’s power grid, there are other 100-plus-megawatt solar projects being considered in Maine that have expressed preliminary interest in becoming part of New England’s electric supply system. One of them, according to a report, is a 150-megawatt solar project that would be built at a former military radar site in Moscow and Caratunk.

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Bill Trotter

A news reporter in coastal Maine for more than 20 years, Bill Trotter writes about how the Atlantic Ocean and the state's iconic coastline help to shape the lives of coastal Maine residents and visitors....