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Maine town approves initial commercial solar rules

The Winslow Town Council on Monday gave initial approval to an ordinance that would allow the construction of large-scale commercial solar farms in certain parts of town.

A first read of the ordinance, which regulates large-scale principal solar energy systems, was overwhelmingly approved by the council. The council still needs to take a second and final vote on the ordinance at its October meeting.

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Town officials were encouraged to draft the regulations after being approached by Ranger Solar, a Yarmouth-based energy company interested in constructing a 10-20 megawatt power station on Heywood Road. If it moves forward, the 100-acre project could cost as much as $25 million and could be the largest solar project in the state.

The ordinance requires any project to conform to industry design and installation standards, be screened from view by nearby residential properties and be enclosed with a chain-link fence, among other requirements. Power transmission and utility lines have to be buried underground, and a maintenance and operation plan has to be submitted to the town. Projects will be charged a $1,500 application fee and permits will cost $500 per megawatt of power the project generates. A solar project would have to comply with the same noise and decommissioning rules that wind projects do.

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The council also gave initial approval to amendments to the town’s zoning ordinance to allow commercial solar projects in the low density residential, rural and industrial districts in town. The considerable amount of land needed for a solar farm restricts where they can be installed, Town Manager Michael Heavener said.