Letter to Editor: Zoning for solar

To the Editor:

Bar Harbor has a great opportunity to add an amendment to its Land Use Ordinance (LUO) that allows large solar arrays as a principal land use. This would help us move toward joining the rapidly growing number of cities around the world predominantly powered by clean energy.

Bar Harbor’s current LUO, written before the rapid growth of solar energy, does not define an option for large solar arrays as a principal use on open land, so they currently are not permitted. On Dec. 5, the Planning Board will consider an amendment to the ordinance that would change that.

The amendment would allow the placement of solar systems on large municipal or private rural lots if they preserve the town’s visual character and minimize environmental impact. It specifies that systems shall be designed and installed to minimize reflection and glare, mitigate visual impacts with vegetative buffers and place on-site electrical wires underground.

Large-scale solar arrays, where the power is sold directly to the utility, are new in Maine. The first, a 4.6 MW utility-scale solar array, began operating last year on 20 acres in Madison. Its solar panels power 2,500 residential, commercial, and industrial customers.

Since then, five more large projects from Sanford to Limestone, ranging from 5 to 100 MW, are underway. Municipal sites often are selected to turn unproductive landfills, airports and brownfields into solar projects that not only create local jobs, but help towns reduce taxes by capturing lease revenue and, potentially, a portion of energy sales.

In 2016, A Climate to Thrive (ACTT) announced its bold vision of energy independence by 2030 for MDI. This aligns with the recent UN scientific panel’s warning that the world has less than 12 years to make drastic reductions in fossil fuels, and greatly expand the use of wind and solar.

MDI residents, businesses, and municipalities are moving quickly in this direction, and all indications point to a renewed commitment at the state level to a clean energy future. The new 275 kW solar array on Tremont’s capped landfill will generate 100 percent of the electricity needed for the town’s municipal buildings and school on less than a third of an acre.

This system was proposed, in part, because Emera Maine suggested to ACTT that a minimum of 1 MW of solar energy generated on-island would help prevent overloading the cable that comes across the causeway at peak summer hours when the sun shines the brightest. The added benefit is that it saves the utility and ratepayers money.

It is time for us to recognize our responsibility to change the course of history and ensure a healthy environment for generations to come. Please encourage the Bar Harbor Planning Board to advance this solar ordinance for a sustainable and energy-independent future.

Joe Blotnick

A Climate to Thrive



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