Solar developers won approval Monday night for a 20-megawatt, 101-acre solar array in Lewiston that will use 1219 Sabattus St. as the main entrance. Daryn Slover/Sun Journal Buy this Photo

LEWISTON — Old Mill Solar LLC won Planning Board approval Monday night for a 101-acre, $29.1 million solar array off Sabattus Street and the company hopes to start prepping the site this fall.

“We’re excited about the opportunity for solar in North America as well as here in Lewiston,” said Jon Gravel, vice president of North Light Energy, one of the two project partners. “It’s a quiet neighbor, and I think a great project and opportunity for the city of Lewiston.”

Working with developer DSRI, the two companies have leased nine properties on Sabattus Street, Old Chadbourne Road, Beaumont Lane and Grove Street for the 20-megawatt project. It’s largely farmland and a former gravel pit, though there are two homes on Beaumont on the leased properties.

“We’ve worked very closely with those landowners; we’ve designed the project based on their recommendations,” Gravel told the board. “At this point, they (do) have a line of sight to the project, but they’re OK with that.”

He said they consider impacts to residents, the city and the environment as well as places to connect to the power grid in assessing any potential development, and “this conglomerate of properties kind of checked those boxes.”

A slide of project benefits included city taxes, seasonal construction jobs and long-term operation jobs, none of which included specific figures.

City staff estimated a project of that size could bring in $500,000 in tax revenue annually.

An outline defines a natural resources survey around the site of a new 20-megawatt solar array off Sabattus Street, noted top left, in Lewiston. The Boyle Associates survey was included in Old Mill Solar’s application that went in front of the Lewiston Planning Board on Monday night.

Engineering consultant Greg Dixson at Krebs & Lansing said the array would be laid out in 10 separate, fenced areas allowing large animals to still navigate the site. Agricultural-style fencing with larger holes will be used to allow small animals to pass through.

Gravel said the project will use 1219 Sabattus St. as the main entrance and 1149 Sabattus St. as the entrance for the switchyard.

Overhead electrical lines will move underground as they get closer to Sabattus Street, he said, then run “underground through County Lane Estates and then we will surface at the switchyard,” where they will connect to Central Maine Power.

Though the project is still awaiting permits from the state and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, he told the board that he anticipated preparing the site in late fall and having construction and installation start in spring 2022. It would become operational in November 2022.

There’s expected to be significant traffic during construction but little after it is operating.

The project represents Lewiston’s largest solar array to date and will produce the equivalent annually of enough to power 30,000 homes, according to Gravel.

It passed the board on a 7-0 vote with little discussion outside of the impact to wildlife and nearby homes, and whether the solar panels will be cleared when it snows.

The new gravel access roads will be regularly plowed, but the angled panels won’t be.

Given how much it snows in Maine, Dixson said that had already been worked into expected energy calculations.

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