Solar panels stretch across 38 acres at the BNRG/Dirigo solar farm, Thursday, Jan. 14, 2021, in Oxford, Maine. Credit: Robert F. Bukaty / AP

Nine neighbors of a hotly-contested solar farm proposed near downtown Blue Hill have appealed a recent local approval for the project.

Abutters to SolAmerica’s planned 8-acre site on South Street say they weren’t properly notified about the project when it first came before the town’s planning board, excluding them from raising their objections. The neighbors filed their appeal last month and their arguments will go first to the planning board early next year.

It’s the latest challenge to the solar proposal, which has ping-ponged back and forth between the town boards over the last year. It is another example of Maine’s hesitancy towards some solar projects.

In addition to the lack of notice, the South Street neighbors have raised a myriad of other complaints. They object to SolAmerica’s lack of information showing how close it would be to nearby homes, and worry there were no assurances that construction and maintenance would occur only during daylight hours. They also are concerned about stormwater runoff, clearcutting, lighting, a lack of an archaeological study in the construction area and the potential impact the project could have on winter deer habitat.

SolAmerica was initially denied by the town’s planning board in June. The board said such a large farm wasn’t a permitted use under the town’s ordinances.

Blue Hill had previously enacted a solar farm moratorium in 2021 over concerns about if the grid had enough capacity. Without upgrades to the grid infrastructure, one large solar power site could make it so residents wouldn’t be able to put up any new panels.  

The town now doesn’t allow solar power generation facilities that are larger than 500 kilowatts or 2.5 acres, but larger projects are allowed if they can connect directly into a subtransmission line.

The problem is the term hadn’t been clearly defined by the town, creating confusion.

SolAmerica argued that the board misinterpreted what a subtransmission line is, and said it was tying into an existing line that would meet the local requirements. The company, which has projects across the country, appealed the planning board decision and the denial was later overturned by the appeals board.

With the project back in its lap, the Planning Board approved the two-megawatt farm in October, seemingly clearing the way for construction.

SolAmerica objected to the town holding a new hearing for the neighbors, saying all of the complaints were either already raised or irrelevant.

The company’s lawyer felt that the apparent lack of notification to some abutters wasn’t a valid reason to reopen the proceedings, as most of the neighbors in the appeal attended the project’s public meetings. One couple “were both present and particularly vociferous” wrote Timothy Pease, the attorney for SolAmerica. Unless they can show that they were prevented from bringing important matters to the board, he argued the board shouldn’t allow reconsideration.

“It is neither fair nor reasonable now to permit these same perssons to have yet another bite at the apple… simply because they oppose the solar farm,” he wrote.

The board has stated that it will only listen to complaints that have not already been aired, said Bryce Farnham, the town’s code enforcement officer.

A public hearing is scheduled for Jan. 11. If the neighbors’ pleas fall flat with the Planning Board, they will likely turn to the appeals board.