MECHANIC FALLS — The Planning Board began drafting ordinances governing alternative energy facilities Monday night after a hearing that included whether such projects are exempt from paying property taxes.

The ordinances are in response to two farms that have received approval: a $5.1 million project off South Main Street approved last year for 14,031 panels on nearly 20 of 37 acres by California-based NextGrid Renewable Energy; and one at 90 North St. approved in June for 9,288 panels on nearly 10 of 42 acres by New England Solar Garden of Portsmouth, New Hampshire.

Last week, Code Enforcement Officer Alan Plummer said New England Solar Garden is interested in a second farm on 65 acres off Winterbrook Road. It would sit above the aquifer that supplies town water, but not include the town well.

Green Lantern Solar of Waterbury, Vermont, has also shown interest in constructing a farm on Lewiston Street, according to Plummer.

Mike Baird, owner of the Lewiston Street property under consideration, said at Monday’s hearing that John O’Donnell of O’Donnell Associates told him the issue of taxing solar farms “is complicated.”

The firm assesses property for a number of Maine municipalities, including Mechanic Falls.

Baird said solar farms that produce more than 5 megawatts pay full property tax but for those under 5 megawatts it depends “upon the type of contract they have with the utility.”

Planning Board member Lou Goulet asked Plummer if he had spoken with O’Donnell.

Plummer said he did last week and was told the property tax exemption specifics on solar farms is still to be determined.

Geoff Sparrow, a representative from Green Lantern Solar, said solar projects are taxed. He said the company is seeking permits from the Public Utilities Commission and Central Maine Power before applying to the Planning Board to build the solar farm on Lewiston Street.

According to the Renewable Energy Equipment Exemption passed in June, renewable energy equipment, such as solar panels, are exempt from property taxes beginning April 1, 2020.  The solar company may or may not pay 100% property tax, but the state of Maine would reimburse the municipality up to 50% of lost local revenue, according to the exemption.

Resident Thomas Webster asked planners about New England Solar Garden’s interest in the aquifer property on Winterbrook Road and was told the Town Council can deny access to the site.

Michelle Emery, an employee of the town water department, said the developer must first approach the Public Utilities Commission.

The Planning Board proposed a 180-moratorium on commercial alternative energy facilities, giving it time to draft ordinances to govern commercial alternative energy facilities. However, the Town Council voted 3-1 against it Aug. 2.

The board is going ahead with creating ordinances, primarily based on those by the town of Winslow.


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