Greene residents reject solar development on town property during Town Meeting
GREENE – Following more than an hour of discussion marked by a few frustrated outbursts, Town Meeting voters overwhelmingly rejected a proposal Saturday to lease town property to a solar developer.
The lively meeting moderated by Don Ferrara at Greene Central School drew over 80 residents, half of whom trickled out as the meeting dragged on. Three of the 57 warrant articles were amended and one rejected during the more than four hour meeting.
If approved, Article 8 would have authorized the town to enter into a lease agreement and an associated easement agreement with Greene Apple Solar Power, a subsidiary of Massachusetts-based Swift Current Energy.
The company is currently developing a 120 megawatt solar project in Greene, aiming to place solar panels on 600 acres of leased land.
Residents were largely against leasing the land to Greene Apple Solar Power because they wanted the land to be developed for recreation fields instead, as town officials suggested when the land was purchased several years ago.
Still, several selectmen said the 80-acre property at 60 School St. is not suitable for recreational development due to wetlands and a downward slope.
Lack of knowledge about the future impacts of the lease and easement agreements also seemed to play a part in residents’ decision.
The town held a public hearing on May 23 where residents could have asked questions about the lease agreement and solar project. When one resident asked how many people knew about the hearing before it took place, roughly an equal number of people said they were and were not aware of the hearing.
Communication from the town government has been a common point of critique from residents over the last several years.
The easement agreement would have given Greene Apple Solar Power rights to transport electricity from the town property to the transmission line, possibly leading to increased development along Bull Run Road.
While residents rejected the article, solar development will continue on private parcels of land around town, with the bulk of the project slated to be developed at Vista of Maine Vineyard and Cidery.
All developments will be subjected to review by the Planning Board.
Alec Jarvis, a senior developer for Swift Current Energy, told residents that Greene was chosen as the site of the project because the transmission line running through town has the capacity to transmit the additional electricity.
Had the lease and easement agreements been approved, the town would have received $420,000 in revenue during the initial 5-year development phase and more over the 20-year life of the project.
Articles comprising the proposed $3.4 million municipal budget were approved by residents, but not without questions and confusion. Several residents complained that the warrant was lacking key information, such as the ending balances for the calendar year 2021 budget and the previous allocation for some articles.
The switch from a calendar budget to a fiscal year budget this year only raised more questions by residents.
Under the new fiscal year system, residents will have the option to split their tax bill in half, making payments in November and May. Residents who wish to pay their taxes all at once may do so in November.
Selectman Glenn Chateauvert proposed an amendment to Article 34, which was ultimately approved, increasing the General Assistance expense account from $4,900 to $12,900 out of concern for rising heating oil prices. The state refunds about 80% of General Assistance funds used, selectmen Chairperson Anthony Reny said, however the town must have the money to disperse assistance up front.
Following a plea from one resident, the townspeople also agreed to amend Article 44 to donate $1,000 to Seniors Plus, not $250 as requested by the organization. The Lewiston-based nonprofit provides meals, among other services, to older people and people with disabilities in the area.
In total, residents approved $8,050 in charitable donations, with $6,000 earmarked for Rural Community Action Ministry.
Article 49 was amended at the suggestion of resident Sheldon Bubier, striking the words “town roads.” Due to the amendment, all balances from the town road account will lapse into the undesignated fund balance in the future.
All other articles were approved as written.
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