At its meeting on September 1, the Sanford Planning Board voted 6-1 to approve a new solar power project on land off of Blanchard Road in Springvale. The property, owned by Hazen and Constance Carpenter, was a Christmas tree farm for many years until it ceased operation in 2015. The access road to the site will be across land owned by Harold and Lisa Carpenter.
The total area of the two properties is about 90 acres, of which approximately 20 acres will be developed by Gilead Solar Partners, LLC, a subsidiary of EDF Renewables. The company will clear 7.3 acres of trees to build the installation, which will generate 4.99 MW of electricity. The power generated will be sold to large institutional customers across the state of Maine, including Bowdoin and Colby Colleges, Maine General Medical Center, Waterville Public Schools, and the City of Portland.
Abutters to the properties raised a number of objections during the Site Plan Review Committee meeting a day earlier. Rivard Farm, a pick your own blueberry and raspberry farm next door to the project site, expressed concerns about how the dust, noise and traffic of construction might negatively impact their operation. Allen Tate, a representative of EDF, responded that logging activity will occur during the winter months, and construction will take place on weekdays rather than the farm’s busier weekends. Water trucks will be on hand during construction to keep dust from becoming a problem. The access road will also be moved a little further away from the Rivard property in order to minimize disruption.
The Morrison and Simmons family objected to the project on the grounds that it will ruin their view and have a negative impact on wildlife, including the Northern Long-Eared Bat, a species listed by the federal government as threatened. A wildlife biologist for EDF said the bats migrate to caves in the western Maine mountains in the winter, so would not be harmed by the logging operation. She did not address any potential impact caused by the loss of their wooded habitat when they return in the spring.
Donna Morrison told the Planning Board that the project does not fit in with the surroundings. She said she appreciates that the project’s decommissioning plan calls for the land to be returned to its natural state in 36 years, but she and her siblings would not live long enough to see that happen. Jean Noon, another abutter, had also submitted comments in opposition to locating a solar site in the neighborhood. Planning Board Vice Chair Jack McAdam replied that solar development is an allowable use in the Rural Residential zone, which limits what the Planning Board can do to prevent it. Chair Lenny Horr agreed, adding “He [Hazen Carpenter] does have a legal right to build this. The Planning Board has an obligation to approve it, if he has satisfied all the legal requirements. The only thing we can do is look at the buffering.”
After considerable time spent discussing a possible site walk of the property (eventually a majority of Board members decided against that) and how to best buffer the family’s view of the installation, the Planning Board approved the project by a vote of 6-1. Tom Morgan, who had been strongly in favor of doing the site walk, was the opposing vote. The approval includes a condition that the developer increase the density of evergreen plantings to block the view as much as possible.