By a 3-3 vote, Bucksport’s town council killed a proposal from a private company to build a solar farm on land formerly owned by Verso Paper.
The vote, held during the council’s meeting Thursday, followed a discussion with representatives from Ameresco about the project that was to be built on land owned by AIM Development, the scrap metal company that bought the defunct paper mill after it shut down in December 2014.
Ameresco, based in Framingham, Massachusetts, signed a 20-year lease with AIM for the 20 acres on the west side of Route 15 between Drakes Lane and a Central Maine Power transmission line corridor. The site, which used to be a farm, was never developed by Verso.
But under Bucksport’s zoning, power generation is not an allowed use at that property, so Ameresco needed approval from the council for a conditional permit that would have allowed it to construct and operate the project. The solar farm would have had a 5.5-megawatt generation capacity and would have consisted of more than 13,000 panels — enough energy to generate electricity for more than 600 typical households in a year.
The council voted 3-3 on June 24 against approving the permit, after which company representatives went before the council to make another pitch. The council agreed to consider the proposal again on Thursday, but the outcome of the second vote was the same.
Joining council Chairman Peter Stewart on Thursday in opposition were councilors Kathy Downes, who expressed concerns about eventually decommissioning the site and recycling the solar panels, and James Morrison, who was not present at the June 24 meeting. Councilor Daniel Ormsby, who voted against the proposal at the June 24 meeting along with Downes and Stewart, was not at Thursday’s meeting.
Stewart said Friday he is opposed to developing the site as a solar farm for two reasons. One is that when the town reviewed its zoning restrictions a couple of years ago, it decided to allow power generation projects only in Bucksport’s industrial zones, and he felt that the town should stick to the standards it adopted in that review. He also said he feels like the property should be developed into residential lots.
Representatives of Ameresco said that developing homes on the property would be problematic because about half is wetland, and some on a steep slope. Also, there is no residential infrastructure at the property such as roads or electrical power, and putting those systems in would drive up the cost of building around wetlands and on steep grades.
Stewart said he didn’t buy that argument, adding that the town supports solar development and has put in some of its own solar arrays on town property.
“I’d rather see residential development” at that site, Stewart said. “I think anything is possible there” if it is an allowable use.
Most of the former mill property is expected to be redeveloped by aquaculture firm Whole Oceans into a land-based salmon farm, but when construction of the facility will begin has not been decided, according to a Whole Oceans spokesperson.
Representatives of Ameresco did not respond Friday to a request for comment on the vote.