SANFORD — NextEra Energy Resources is preparing a site at Sanford Seacoast Regional Airport for construction of a 50-megawatt solar array, the largest at any airport in the United States once it is completed, local officials say.

The site will be prepared and a fence will be installed this fall, NextEra project manager Liz Peyton told the Sanford City Council on Tuesday. Construction may be put on hold during the winter, and most of the 150,000-plus solar panels will be installed in the spring, she said, and the company hopes it will be pushing power to the grid by November 2020.

The project is expected to create 100 construction jobs, and the city will take in revenue from land leases and property and other taxes.

On Tuesday, the Sanford City Council unanimously approved a Tax Increment Financing plan that will allow the city to shelter tax revenue from the property and use the funds for several airport and other projects.

Under terms of the TIF agreement, the city would retain $500,000 a year in property taxes, or $10 million over 20 years.

Proceeds from the TIF are expected to fund bond debt at a snow removal facility at Sanford Seacoast Regional Airport; a portion of debt service for future fire stations; Sanford’s economic development program; and infrastructure at the airport including water, sewer, broadband and electricity.

The next step in the TIF process is approval from the state Department of Economic and Community Development, likely to be taken up in September.

The city is also expected to gain another $200,000 annually in airport land lease revenue and a maintenance contract for plowing and mowing, for a total of $4 million over 20 years.

The Sanford Airport Solar LLC project will utilize 250 acres of city-owned property at Sanford Seacoast Regional Airport along with some private parcels. The TIF program includes a total of 333 acres, which includes 80 acres pegged for future  private development.

When discussions began about building a solar array at the airport in 2015, the city was charting new waters, said Sanford Regional Economic Growth Council Director Jim Nimon.

“There was no clear path laid out for this project,” Nimon said.

He applauded the work of airport manager R. Allison Rogers, City Manager Steve Buck and others.

When completed, the project will be the largest solar array on an airport in the U.S., according to economic growth council. It is expected to be assessed by the city at more than $50 million.

“More than any other project, this is a result of a true partnership with multiple stakeholders,” said Peyton. “From the beginning, there was no road map for this.”

Clearances were required from the Federal Aviation Administration and other federal and state agencies.

The energy produced, said Peyton, is already under contract. The project was chosen through a competitive bid in 2017, and is designed to provide power to parts of Massachusetts, Connecticut and Rhode Island.

“We’re particularly excited about this project because it is the next step in solidifying (our position) in New England,” said Peyton.

Earlier in the process NextEra had projected a start date of fall 2018, but state environmental permitting took longer than expected. The state permits were approved in January. Both the FAA and Department of Defense approved the plan in late 2017. Sign-off by the Department of Defense was necessary because the property was used by the U.S. Navy during World War II.

 


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