WINSLOW — Plans for a commercial-scale solar farm on Heywood Road are on hold after lease negotiations between a utility developer and local farmer fell through.

Ranger Solar, a company registered in Delaware with offices in Yarmouth, earlier this year proposed a 10- to 20-megawatt solar station costing up to $25 million – a project that would have been the biggest solar farm in the state.

In October, the Winslow Town Council approved regulations on utility-scale solar projects in a move designed to help the project become a reality.

Don Eskelund, who owns The Hayman Farm on Heywood Road, said that in mid-May, representatives from Ranger Solar approached him about leasing 100 acres for the project.

‘A CREDIBILITY GAP’

Eskelund said he is a supporter of solar energy and was initially excited about the project. The money was good, too.

Ranger was offering $700 an acre per year for 100 acres, $70,000 a year, in exchange for a 30-year lease on his property, he said, and the company later asked for a 40-year lease.

The company was “waving a lot of money in my face,” Eskelund said.

But as he negotiated a contract, Eskelund soured on the deal and felt increasingly uncomfortable about the company and its proposal.

Talks on a deal finally fell apart in early November, he said.

“I guess there was a credibility gap,” he said in an interview Monday. “They wanted to tie up my land for four to five years in a development phase of the project, paying me very little with the promise of a big payout.”

In an interview last week, Aaron Svedlow, director of permitting for Ranger Solar, said the company hadn’t made a decision on its development in town.

“We are still hoping to move forward with a project in Winslow,” Svedlow said, though he did not return a phone call on Monday.

Town Manager Michael Heavener said last week that he is in contact with company representatives to look at areas in town that could be a good fit for a solar development.

SEVERAL WORRIES

Eskelund and his partner, Heidi Jacobs, keep a working farm with about 50 Black Angus beef cattle and a flock of 20 sheep.

One of Eskelund’s concerns was that leasing his land to Ranger would force him to pay higher taxes and lose out on soil conservation programs. The land Ranger wanted to develop is under the state’s farmland tax program, which provides a property tax discount for agricultural land. If the property was developed, it would drop out of the farmland program, and Eskelund said he would be responsible for paying the tax difference on the farmland value and regular value for the past five years plus interest.

He was also worried that developing the land could mean penalties for not following through on conservation projects partially funded through the National Resources Conservation Service.

Representatives from Ranger told him that the company would pay taxes and possible fines from NRCS, but those stipulations never made it into the contract, he said.

Then there was the matter of payment. While the solar company’s initial offer was generous, Eskelund said that the deal was that he would get a signing bonus of $2,025, but the company wouldn’t pay rent on the land for the first four or five years during the development and construction phases. Rent wouldn’t kick in until the solar farm was up and running, he said.

“It was just too long for me,” he said.

After negotiating, the firm offered to pay a graduated lease, $2,500 the first year, up to $10,000 in the fifth year, for the land, but Eskelund asked for more, $10,000 in the first year up to $50,000 in the fifth. “They didn’t agree to that. They offered a fraction of that,” he said.

He also asked for a percentage of power if it produced more than it originally expected, Eskelund said.

“Solar panels are becoming cheaper and more efficient,” Eskelund said. If the company went over the projected 17 megawatts the station would produce, he wanted a percentage of the revenue, he said.

“They never even would acknowledge I asked for that,” Eskelund said.

MORE CONCERNS

The final straw for Eskelund was that the company’s Delaware incorporation could put him at a disadvantage in case of a dispute with the contract. When he brought the proposed contract to his attorney, “The first thing out of his month was, ‘I’m very concerned about the Delaware incorporation,’ ” Eskelund said.

More than 1 million companies are registered in Delaware to take advantage of the state’s business-friendly incorporation process, according to information from the state’s website.

But Eskelund said he wanted to work with a Maine-based company, not one based out of state, and Ranger refused to incorporate in Maine to lease his land. “It just didn’t look good to me,” he said.

In the end, he preferred to break off negotiations. “I just didn’t want to do business with these guys,” he said.

“It sounded like a really nice thing,” he said. “I would like to see it happen with another company.”

Ranger Solar has proposed a similar-sized solar farm at the regional airport in Sanford, according to municipal documents.

The company has also proposed at least four big arrays in Vermont, but has come up against opposition from government regulators and others who say the state’s power transmission lines can’t handle the amount of electricity the stations will produce, according to a September report from vtdigger.org. Ranger’s proposals in Vermont also made him pause, Eskelund said.