BAR HARBOR — The Planning Board approved a Bar Harbor community solar project to develop a large-scale ground-mounted solar panel system off Knox Road following a public comment period last Wednesday.
EDP Renewables, one of the largest renewable energy owners in North America, is funding the array that clearcuts 10.5 acres of the total 57.5-acre lot for the project, providing 1.99 megawatts of power to the electrical grid.
This is the first commercial solar project proposed after voters approved amendments to the land use ordinance last November to allow for the construction and operation of ground-mounted solar photovoltaic systems as a standalone development as opposed to a secondary use.
“I’m against this going in and I really hope going forward we look at this ordinance to fix it so this does not happen at another location in Bar Harbor and we lose more housing or land to build housing,” said Fire Chief Matt Bartlet. “We are very short – we’ve identified the need for housing, and this is taking away.”
Code Enforcement Officer Angela Chamberlain, who is an abutter to the property, wrote to the Planning Board in April with similar complaints. Given her opposition, Chamberlain has recused herself from all Planning Board discussions regarding the project.
“Land on MDI is limited and opportunities for residential development are scarce,” Chamberlain wrote. “We desperately need housing on the island and to take a vacant property, which could be utilized for housing in some capacity, and strip it of as much vegetation as possible to install acres of solar, feels irresponsible.”
The site contains eight wetlands totaling approximately 20 acres, two vernal pools and one stream, which limits where the panels can be placed on the property.
“There are limitations in terms of what we can override,” said Planning Board member Ruth Eveland. “Our best way of managing the project, perhaps, is going forward in terms of what the next iteration is.”
Eveland said several generations ago the lot was fields, so it could return to a wooded area at the point of decommission.
During a virtual neighborhood meeting held in March by Bar Harbor Community Solar to hear from the public, Chris Byers, a senior solar energy program manager for Biodiversity Research Institute who represents the applicant, said there were comments asking for the project to be more connected to the community.
To remedy those concerns, during the recent Planning Board meeting, Byers presented a $20,000 donation, which would be issued prior to the start of construction, from the owners of the solar project to Island Housing Trust.
“On a personal level, I appreciate the donation. [As] a Planning Board member, I hate that it’s become part of our discussion,” said Vice Chair Joseph Cough. “I resent the inclusion of this, and I worry for the future because of that kind of disclosure.”
Secretary Millard Dority said, “As a person concerned with carbon and global warming, how do you make a judgment between trees sequestering carbon and solar panels that allow us to stop using fossil fuels and then on top of that the question of affordable housing? The bottom line is we have an ordinance that allows this to happen.”