Electrician Zach Newton works on wiring solar panels at the 38-acre BNRG/Dirigo solar farm, Thursday, Jan. 14, 2021, in Oxford, Maine. Credit: Robert F. Bukaty / AP

A solar panel development in Eliot has been halted after residents mobilized against it.

The project in the York County town near the New Hampshire border had already been approved by the town’s planning board. But concerned residents who live near the proposed solar project site brought it to the town’s board of appeals, who overturned that approval earlier this month.  

The policy shift reflects the power of grassroots activism in municipal policy, as well as the potential for opposition from affected residents on green energy projects as Maine seeks to shift toward renewable energy.

Eliot’s planning board determined in March 2021 that the solar array could be put on Odiorne Lane, a rural zone, under town law due it being a public utility facility. It proceeded to approve the project in January.

But in its ruling, the appeals board said that the planning board violated the town code by designating the project by Portsmouth, New Hampshire-based company NH Solar Garden a public utility facility without “substantive verification.”

The appeals board ultimately voted 3-1 to overturn the planning board’s decision.

Patrick Bedard, a lawyer representing residents opposing the project, argued to the board of appeals that the panels were a private enterprise, not a public utility, and therefore did not qualify for the rural zone. He contrasted it with other entities, like Central Maine Power, that were created specifically to serve the public.

NH Solar Garden can still appeal the decision to the Maine Superior Court. Company founder Andrew Kellar did not answer a question about whether it would do so, but emailed a statement citing NH Solar Garden’s past achievements in New England and its hope to support Maine’s goal to move entirely to renewable energy by 2050.

On June 14, Eliot residents will vote in a referendum on establishing a town code amendment for zoning utility-scale solar projects, the result of debate over the proposal. There are currently no land use regulations specific to them, according to town documents.

Eliot residents Jay Meyer, Krickett Merrill, Pat Merrill, Melissa Layman and Craig Layman, each of whom live near where the proposed solar array was initially approved for, organized against the project.

Layman said she has environmental concerns, including the ecological significance of the property the solar panels would be on and the impact of utility lines “abutting” her nearby property.

“I didn’t want to see construction vehicles for months ripping up the road,” Layman said.

Layman said she supports solar power, but just wants it in “appropriate locations” away from residential areas.

She feels that solar arrays can be a nuisance when placed too close to homes due to “low-level hum” from the inverter that converts solar power into electricity.

She bought her house near ​​Odiorne Lane three years ago and hopes to make it her “forever home.”

“We’re really glad that right now it’s stopped,” Layman said. “But I know there’s still going to be a bit of a fight ahead.”