Maine city pauses all solar development for 180 days

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Citing local community concerns with the appearance of numerous solar installations in the region, city councilors in Augusta, Maine, have voted to ban development of all large solar energy projects anywhere in the city for the next 180 days.

The ordinance bans the development, construction, and official consideration of any solar energy system 15,000 square feet or larger. Officials have been steadfast in their stance that the moratorium is not the first step in a goal to ban solar projects, but rather an attempt regulate their appearance more strictly, though one councilor did share with local press that he doesn’t “want Augusta to be the solar power capital of Maine.”

Many of the cited community complaints have been in regards to the recently-completed project off Route 3, colloquially referred to as the Board of Trade project. Residents have allegedly taken issue with the 6.3 MW project’s high visibility and have inquired about camouflaging it or other projects.

Since the route 3 project has been completed and has achieved commercial operation, any new solar regulations or ordinances passed will have no effect on its appearance.

In the meantime, the moratorium puts significant stress on local developers working on or delivering projects in the near future, and any developer with a contracted delivery date by the end of the year will be hard-pressed to meet that deadline.

One local developer requested that city councilors cut the moratorium time in half, down to just 90 days, but officials declined to reduce the length of the moratorium to anything less than the proposed 180 days.

Historically, Maine has lagged from a national and regional perspective in its commitment to solar as a resource. That fact has changed recently, however, and the vast majority of the state’s nearly 250 MW of installed capacity has come active since the start of 2020, according to according to the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA).  The majority of this capacity has come from utility-scale solar projects, whereas what little solar the state had prior to 2020 was a more distributed mix of project sizes, per SEIA.

While taking a pause to make sure the right regulations and measures are in place to best serve the community is understandable, a prolonged moratorium could do damage to an industry just now securing a foothold in the region.

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