OXFORD — The Planning Board’s approval of a plan to construct a solar array on a field off Route 26 has been delayed until at least May while proponents wait for the Department of Environmental Protection to complete its review of the project.
Code Enforcement Officer Joelle Corey-Whitman said the Planning Board did not vote on the Final Application at its April 11 public hearing and meeting because the Department of Environmental Protection had not finished its review.
The DEP review will include a report from the Inland Fisheries and Wildlife about the project’s impact on the Ribbon Snake that Corey-Whitman said is not endangered, but of “special concern.”
The Planning Board held the public hearing as part of its final approval of the proposed solar farm on 38 acres off Route 26 and Number 6 Road near the Oxford County Regional Airport.
Dirigo Solar LLC is proposing the $8 to $9 million solar array project but the go-ahead hinges on approval of local, state and federal permits, an agreement with Central Maine Power to connect the solar array to the grid and the approval of a 15-year Credit Enhancement Agreement with the town of Oxford
Robert Cleaves of Dirigo Solar LLC said the project will benefit Oxford financially through temporary and permanent jobs and providing additional tax base. The power from the project will not leave the state but will be distributed locally to consumers in Oxford, Norway and the area through a contract with Central Maine Power. All CMP consumers should be a financial benefit to all CMP ratepayers, Cleaves said.
Corey-Whitman said seven residents, including five abutters to the proposed project, appeared at the public hearing with concerns about water drainage and other issues.
Corey-Whitman described the land as having a very high water table and with the frozen ground this time of year, the drainage issues become very apparent, she said. Other concerns from residents included glint and glare or hazards from the panels for the nearby regional airport, ground water safety and the issue of deer who often hide in the small pine trees on the property.
The Federal Aviation Administration has issued a four-page letter to the solar array developers saying that the array structure “does not exceed obstruction standards and would not be a hazard to air navigation,” but did so with conditions.
They include filing a notice with the FAA within five days of when the structure reaches its greatest height or construction is abandoned; that any voluntary marking or lighting the proponent may decide to do follow FAA guidelines.
The matter will be before the Planning Board again in May if the DEP has finalized the review, said Corey-Whitman.
Dirigo officials said if the company gets all the necessary permits and contracts, construction should begin in late summer or fall.
The project is also dependent on creation of a Tax Increment Finance District that must be approved by Annual Town Meeting voters in June.
If it is not approved, the project would be delayed at least a year, said Nicholas Mazuroski of Dirigo Solar.