Glenburn residents voted to ban large solar projects in town during a special meeting Thursday, as the town and Penobscot County have seen a wave of proposals for new solar installations.
Residents voted 14-1 to ban solar panel projects larger than 15,000 square feet.
Three residents spoke in favor of the proposed change to town rules during a public hearing before the vote Thursday. No one spoke in favor of allowing large solar projects.
Town Manager Daniel McClung said town leaders became interested in restricting large solar farms in town after Glenburn received about 20 proposals for projects over the past year. Larger solar farms “may not be advantageous” because they take up swaths of land that the town of 4,600 residents may want to develop in the future.
“I think you see a trend right now across the state of Maine that we jumped in as a state with both feet into solar,” McClung said. “You see a lot of solar farms if you drive across the countryside. We had quite a few comments from residents that they didn’t want that in Glenburn.”
Maine has 3,765 solar project installations in place statewide, according to the Solar Energy Industries Association. The number of solar projects increased dramatically after Gov. Janet Mills signed an expansion of the state’s net energy billing program into law in 2019, which created incentives for solar projects.
In addition to being an eyesore, resident Audrey Zimmerman worried large solar projects could take up land that could be used for farming in the future.
Financially, McClung said, the solar projects wouldn’t directly lower residents’ electric bills or be a boon for the town’s tax rolls, as the state has property tax exemptions in place for solar equipment.
The new rule in Glenburn does not apply to small-scale solar installations on private or on small businesses’ property, such as roof-mounted arrays or ground projects smaller than 15,000 square feet — which is slightly larger than an Olympic swimming pool.
The new rule also won’t affect the 91-acre commercial solar farm on Route 15 that the Planning Board already approved, McClung said.
Glenburn isn’t the only community taking steps to limit solar farms after the region saw a flood of developers asking to connect proposed solar projects to the electric grid.
Last fall, Dixmont temporarily halted solar projects while the town crafted rules requiring developers to reserve funding to cover the costs of decommissioning solar panels when they reached the end of their lifespan.
Dixmont residents will vote Saturday at their annual town meeting on an ordinance that would require solar developers to put estimated decommissioning funds into an escrow account or post a bond to cover such costs.
A state law that took effect last fall also requires that solar projects of three or more acres have an approved decommissioning plan.
Ellsworth and Augusta also put a hold on solar panel construction last summer, citing concerns about overdevelopment and aesthetics.