A version of this article was originally published in The Daily Brief, our Maine politics newsletter. Sign up here for daily news and insight from politics editor Michael Shepherd.
Among the interesting measures coming down to the wire in the Maine Legislature is a policy shift uniting solar critics, environmentalists and Gov. Janet Mills.
The Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine is leading a bill from Rep. Scott Landry, D-Farmington, that would force developers to pay fees to support land conservation projects if they locate solar projects on high-value farmland, an issue that has gotten lots of attention in recent years.
The context: Only 13 percent of Maine’s land is suitable for farming, and that same land is also often perfect for solar farms that have proliferated since Maine passed generous solar incentives in 2019 that have led to a boom in smaller projects.
This has aided farms that have embraced solar power as another revenue stream. However, it has also prompted worries that these projects will take viable land off the table, with one group recommending dual use. That balance is being highlighted by interests including the Maine Farmland Trust.
Landry’s bill is a general outline for the program, but it comes with some uncertainty because the exact fees and key definitions would be set by the Mills administration in rulemaking. The bill has not yet made it to the House of Representatives for initial votes.
What they’re saying: At a hearing in May, the governor’s wildlife, agriculture and environmental protection departments backed the idea alongside the sportsman’s alliance and environmental groups. A key solar industry group and some companies opposed the idea.
“It does not matter if you place a fence around a field or forest, you are creating a ‘no man’s land’ where nothing on legs and with no wings can travel,” David Trahan, the alliance’s executive director, said in May testimony focused on wildlife habitat fragmentation.
“Ultimately, layering on new regulation and mitigation payments will increase costs, and those costs will be borne by Maine consumers,” Jeremy Payne, who represents the Maine Renewable Energy Association, a solar industry group that opposes the measure.
What’s next: Over the last few days, conservatives have been sharing a May piece in the Sun Journal from legendary Maine outdoors writer V. Paul Reynolds in favor of the bill. The odd coalition between Mills and critics of her solar policies, brokered by a sportsman’s alliance that has often worked with the governor, looks to be pushing this toward a deal.