Saddleback Mountain Ski Resort as shown in this 2015 file photo. The resort is pursuing plans to build a large solar farm and new mid-mountain lodge. Andree Kehn/Sun Journal

DALLAS PLANTATION — The new owners of Saddleback Mountain Ski Resort are looking to build a solar farm covering up to 30 acres and a new mid-mountain lodge, projects it calls “critical to the successful revitalization of this very important asset.”

Attorney Thomas Federle told the Maine Land Use Planning Commission on Wednesday that the mountain had “performed un-economically, really, since its inception.”

“The goal of the Arctaris Impact Fund is to stabilize Saddleback, invest in it now, reopen it and stabilize it so that it is an asset and economic engine in this region for the next 100 years,” Federle said.

The proposed solar farm and lodge “will determine whether we are able to reposition this mountain in a way that allows for it to be something that’s stable that the region can count on and we’re not year-to-year trying to figure out whether there is funding in place to operate,” he added.

A third fix, he told commissioners, is underway in the installation of a new high-speed chairlift: “The capacity of the existing lift system would max out at about 100,000 skier visits a year and that is a number that cannot sustain Saddleback as a ski resort.”

He said Sugarloaf ski resort, by comparison, had about 400,000 skier visits a year and Sunday River Ski Resort more than 500,000.

“Saddleback needs to be in the 150,000-180,000 skier visits a year (range) to be economically sustainable,” Federle said.

Arctaris Impact Fund bought the resort from the Berry family last year. Federle and Arctaris were in front of the LUPC asking for changes to Saddleback’s Planned Development District to make way for both proposed projects. Commissioners agreed to schedule a public hearing later this fall.

The application by Federle makes clear electricity costs had been a drain on the resort, which closed abruptly in 2015 and is set to reopen Dec. 15 under Arctaris.

“Energy costs are a significant driver in the economic under-performance of Saddleback’s past,” he wrote. “Self-generating all of our electricity needs and selling excess electricity to third party end users is a powerful tool available to Saddleback to change the economic trajectory of the enterprise… A smart distributed generation energy plan for the mountain is simply imperative to any strategy to make Saddleback a long-term viable operation and employer in the region.”

Federle in an interview this week declined to say how much the resort had spent on electricity in the past beyond calling it “a substantial cost.”

“All of the snow melts back into Saddleback Lake, which provides us with ample water for snowmaking,” he said. “The problem is it’s down at the bottom of the mountain and we need the snow up at the top of the mountain,” a 3-mile pumping trek.

“Running the lifts is very expensive, our new detachable quad is substantially heavier than the two-seat Rangeley Chair that it’s replacing and has a much larger energy demand,” Federle added. “We’re sizing this both to account for historical electricity usage but also the planned upgrades.”

A rough square outline on the right-hand side of the image shows a simulation by A&D Klumb Environmental of what a solar farm would look like at Saddleback Mountain Resort looking down from the Appalachian Trail between Saddleback Mountain and The Horn. Rendering from Maine Land Use Planning Commission application

The solar farm, still under design and so far without a price tag, would be less than 5MW and located in the northwest corner of the 6,350-acre property, adjacent to an existing transmission line.

The site would be three miles away from the Appalachian Trail, won’t impact snowmobile trails and was chosen in large part because it would not be visible from Saddleback Lake or any public roads, according to the application.

Also noted: With a surplus of electricity, “Saddleback will be able to offer discounted electricity prices for businesses and will make this available first to local businesses looking to save on their energy costs.”

Federle said that while the resort is focused on the large solar farm, at LUPC staff’s suggestion, Saddleback is also asking for rules around condominium owners installing their own rooftop solar panels, if desired.

The proposed mid-mountain lodge would replace an existing warming hut and be built near the top of the new $7 million high-speed chairlift currently under construction.

With triple the uphill capacity and more skiers, “we have both the opportunity and the need to provide better food and shelter accommodations on the mountain,” according to the application. A small lodge “will allow skiers in the winter to get out of the cold without having to return to the base lodge (or cram into an undersized existing ‘warming hut’ that historically has been anything but ‘warm’).”

Saddleback’s current base lodge is 45,000 square feet. The new mid-mountain lodge would be up to 6,000, plus outdoor decks.

Visually, according to the application, it “will be nearly impossible to discern with the naked eye from any public road or from any water body. Particular care has been given to siting this facility in a way where it blends into its background covered in a living roof, sided with natural materials, tucked into the woods and finished in neutral colors with minimal signage and lighting.”

A letter to LUPC from Derek DeAndrade, a senior associate at Arctaris, indicated that the company would “partner with a tax credit investor to leverage over $2,000,000 of tax credit equity” for the solar farm and fund the mid-mountain lodge through “through a generous gift it is receiving from the PARC Foundation.”

Federle said the $2 million will cover just part of the solar project and the size of the PARC Foundation gift is yet unknown.

LUPC Senior Planner Tim Beaucage said if commissioners approve the change to the development district after the to-be-scheduled public hearing, the resort would still have to return for building approval.

Ideally, construction would take place for both next year, with the solar farm online before the start of the 2021 season, Federle said.

“They’re both really important,” he said. “The solar farm speaks really well to the Saddleback community’s environmental ethos but also is really important to the economic performance at the mountain. The same can be said of the mid-mountain facility because it relieves that capacity constraint, which sort of inhibits our ability to get to the number of skier visits annually that we need to be sustainable. It also opens up the door with a wonderful facility that will be a real attraction all four seasons.”

The Berry family had owned the ski resort since 2003. Attempts to reach a family representative were unsuccessful.


Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.