China Planning Board members heard more information about the proposed solar development off Windsor Road, plus comments from neighbors, at their Feb. 11 meeting. They scheduled a Tuesday, Feb. 25, public hearing on the proposal to let more residents weigh in; the hearing will be at 6:30 p.m. in the town office.
Spokespeople for SunRaise Development explained the plans. They included project manager Joe Harrison; Joe Marden, of Sitelines, a Brunswick engineering and surveying firm; attorney Tom Federle, of Federle Law, in Portland; and Lisa Vickers, Senior Project Manager with Atlantic Environmental, in Woolwich.
The solar array will consist of 17,800 panels, about 3-by-5 feet each, slanted to catch maximum sunlight, with spaces between them. They will occupy a leased portion of Michael Willette’s 51-acre lot accessed from Windsor Road. The lot is mostly meadow; about two acres of timber in one corner will be clearcut. The field under the panels will be mowed no more than twice a year.
An access road will run through the middle of the solar array, seldom used, because the facility is unmanned and needs inspection and perhaps repairs only a few times a year. There will be 10-foot buffers around the edges of the property, and a high fence will keep out unauthorized people.
The solar array is expected to produce about seven megawatts of electricity and to have a 20-to-30-year lifetime. After its lifespan is complete, the panels, supports and other structures will be removed.
The developers and some planning board members have a major disagreement that was not resolved: whether or not solar panels are structures. If the panels are considered structures, then under China’s land use and phosphorus control ordinances, they must conform to lot coverage and phosphorus runoff limits.
Planning Board Chairman Tom Miragliuolo said by China’s ordinance definition, and according to planning board precedent (the 2015 approval of the smaller solar array at Three Level Farm, on Vassalboro Road), he thinks the panels are structures. SunRaise has been dealing with state Department of Environmental officials; Federle, Harrison and Marden all said by state rules, only the concrete footings count as impervious surface.
Miragliuolo reminded them they need to meet local ordinance requirements as well as state rules.
Two couples living close to the site had a variety of questions about possible impacts, from groundwater pollution risks (very slight, Vickers said) to the effect on property values (no data available, Vickers and Harrison said; Harrison added some people would welcome such a neighbor, others wouldn’t).
In the only other action at the Feb. 11 meeting, planning board members agreed unanimously that the planned Phase Two of the causeway project at the head of China Lake’s east basin is a separate project from Phase One and will need a new application. Phase One was construction of the new bridge; Phase Two involves shoreline work, mostly east from the bridge.
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