MECHANIC FALLS — The Town Council has adopted ordinances to govern solar panel arrays.

When New England Solar Garden showed interest last summer in erecting a solar farm on 65 acres off Winterbrook Road above the town aquifer, residents and Planning Board members saw the need to draft rules to protect the town’s rural character and its natural resources.

In November 2021 the Town Council voted for a 180-day moratorium on future development of solar power facilities, effective immediately.

In 2020, the Planning Board approved a $5.1 million project off South Main Street for 14,031 panels on nearly 20 of 37 acres by California-based NextGrid Renewable Energy. In June 2021, the board approved one at 90 North St. for 9,288 panels on nearly 10 of 42 acres by New England Solar Garden of Portsmouth, New Hampshire.

And on Jan. 18, Green Lantern Solar of Waterbury, Vermont, was approved for a $2.7 million project on 12 acres on Lewiston Street. It’s part of the Lewiston Street Gateway district which is a “mixture of commercial, industrial, warehousing, institutional, and residential uses” according to the town’s comprehensive plan. The farm was classified by the Planning Board as a major project, requiring development review and special exception permit because it involves 42,771 square feet of wetland to the south.

Code Enforcement Officer Alan Plummer said at Monday night’s council meeting that he is pleased with the ordinance, saying, “I think it’s a very good step at protecting the town.”

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He said the rural district should remain without major development, according to the town’s Comprehensive Plan and that is part of what the ordinances are all about.

According to the ordinances, solar array energy systems have three classification based on square footage: home, medium and large scale.

Those classified as home cannot exceed 1,000 square feet; medium can not exceed 15,000 square feet, and large can exceed 15,000 square feet.

Specific standards include:

• Submitting a decommissioning plan, which involves a performance bond, surety bond, or irrevocable letter of credit “to provide assurance to the town that the facility will be properly removed and remediated” upon termination.

• Paying an application fee of $250 for home scale farms, $5,000 for medium scale farms and $5,000 plus 50 cents per square foot above 15,000 square feet for large scale farms.

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• Paying a fee for electrical storage units of $2,500 plus 50 cents per square foot over 1,000 square feet.

• Paying annual inspection fees: $1,500 for medium scale projects, $3,000 plus 50 cents per square foot above 15,000 square feet for large scale projects; $1,000 for electrical storage units.

• Paying $500 per million watts for fire and safety inspections by the fire chief or code enforcement officer for the medium scale and large scale projects and electrical storage units.

The Planning Board “did a lot of work and a very good job,” Plummer said, “and kudos to our town attorney.”

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