Wiscasset residents approved leasing 20 acres near the Wiscasset Municipal Airport on which to build a solar array in a 266-135 vote Tuesday, according to Town Clerk Linda Perry.
The array, made from roughly 12,480 solar panels, will sit between the airport’s runway and Chewonki Creek. Each panel is 7.5-feet by 3.5-feet each, according to Chad Chabazi, vice president of project development for Cenergy Power, the parent company for the project.
Cenergy Power, a California-based commercial solar developer that specializes in building solar facilities in airports throughout the company.
The panels are expected to generate 5 megawatts of solar power each year, which would be available for local Central Maine Power customers to purchase. Once completed, the project is expected to be capable of powering 650-800 homes for a year, said Chabazi.
Chabazi said construction for the project could begin as early as this fall. Cenergy Power will lease the land from the town and construct and operate the solar field, expected to cost about $10 million.
Before the vote, Airport Manager Rick Tetrev told The Times Record he believes the solar project would benefit both the airport and taxpayers because Cenergy Power would lease the land for $53,000 per year, totaling $1,060,000.00 over 20 years. That revenue would help make the airport “a profit center rather than a cost center for the town and allow the airport to continue to be maintained in a superior condition,” said Tetrev.
Stephen Barrett, principal of Barrett Energy Resources Group, dismissed fears that the solar panels could cause glare that would endanger nearby pilots. He said the panels are designed to absorb light rather than reflect it and, from the sky, look like a body of water.
Barrett also said the project will bring the airport up to current Federal Aviation Administration standards because it will be built on what is now forested land. He said the nearby trees are “obstructions to airspace” and removing them would increase safety for pilots.