China planners take solar field trip: pleased with results

by Mary Grow

CHINA, ME — Three China Planning Board members took a field trip to Three Level Farm community solar farm on Route 32 (Vassalboro Road) before their May 24 meeting, and were pleased with what they saw.

The visit was part of board members’ preparation to write a solar ordinance to submit to China voters in November. The solar farm was approved several years ago, under the current land use ordinance; provisions intended for buildings were adapted to regulate solar panels.

“This one sets the standard,” board member Walter Bennett said of Three Level Farm. He and others agreed a new solar-specific ordinance should include as requirements many of the things done at the South China site.

Specifically, they liked:

  • The limited impact on the natural environment. Only a few trees were cut; an existing wetland and drainage into it seem not to have been affected; minimal changes were made to the terrain.
  • The fact that the solar panels are almost invisible from the road. Board members pointed out that not all sites would be naturally screened, suggesting the need for a screening requirement.
  • The footings for the panels, three-inch diameter augurs that should be easy to remove when the solar farm is decommissioned.
  • The elevated panels – Codes Officer Jaime Hanson estimated the lower edges are about four feet from the ground and the top edges 10 feet – and the generous spacing, allowing a luxuriant growth of grass and clover.

With the minimal disruption to the site, it should return to its natural state soon after the facility is decommissioned, Bennett said.

Natale Tripodi said he had had reservation about solar farms, but after the visit is more enthusiastic.

The only concern discussed was how to allow wildlife into a fenced-off solar farm without also letting people in. Fencing and signage are essential, board members agreed, both to inform people that the area is private property and to avoid possible injury to trespassers.

The May 24 agenda called for discussion of the draft solar ordinance and proposed amendments to the Land Use Ordinance, the latter mostly to incorporate changes required by the state Department of Environmental Protection. With only three members present, acting board chairman James Wilkens postponed both topics.

Hanson said state officials are reviewing currently protected areas along lakes, streams and wetlands. Residents who question whether their property near any protected area is correctly zoned are invited to contact him; he will request a state review.

Wilkens thanked Hanson and Planning Board Secretary Dawn Kilgore for their work. He told Kilgore her diligence is appreciated (board members almost never suggest even a minor change in her detailed meeting minutes). And he told Hanson that he appears to have gained residents’ respect and to be managing codes enforcement smoothly.

Two days after the meeting, Town Manager Rebecca Hapgood reported that Hanson is resigning to accept a position with Kennebec County. China is advertising for a new codes officer.

Because the next regular planning board meeting would have fallen on Election Day, June 14, members agreed they will skip it and meet Tuesday evening, June 28, unless a special meeting is needed earlier.


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