Council Oks lease for solar farm at airport
May. 10, 2016
By Ellen W. Todd
SANFORD — The City Council has approved a lease agreement for a solar farm at the airport that would be the largest in the state, and one of the largest in New England, if all goes according to plan.
The agreement with Ranger Solar — doing business as Sanford Airport Solar, LLC, for the project — is for the lease of 226 acres of surplus land at the Sanford Seacoast Regional Airport to develop a utility-scale photovoltaic (PV) system.
The lease provides for a four-year development term for permitting, environmental studies, and design, said Airport Manager Allison Rogers. Once the solar array is up and running, the production term under the lease is in five-year increments, and can be renewed or extended every five years up to 40 years. When the lease is terminated, the terms call for a restoration phase at which time the tenant is required to restore the property to its previous condition or better.
The airport property is about 11,000 acres, Rogers told councilors at the May 3 meeting. “Some of that land is surplus — it is not needed for aeronautical use in the short-term . . . in at least the next 50 years,” she said.
“The FAA (Federal Aviation Administration) does not like us to sell our land,” Rogers said. Leasing airport land not in use provides additional income to the airport, adds to the city’s tax base and will provide new jobs.
Ranger Solar will pay a one-time signing fee of $10,000 at the start of the development term, and if and when construction begins on the site, a one-time fee of $5,000. The tenant will pay $700 per acre per year for the first five years. That amount will increase by $100 per acre per year in year six and an additional $100 every five years if the lease is extended.
Sanford Airport Solar will be up to 50-megawatts in size and is expected to provide approximately $29 million of new taxable investment in the community. Ranger Solar expects the project to create about 94 full-time jobs during the construction phase and about nine full-time operations jobs when it is on line.
Power from Sanford Airport Solar will likely be the least expensive solar power in New England, according to a Ranger Solar’s summary of the project.
“This is a massive, complex, and unique project that will need to overcome many hurdles to reach fruition and the background research, development, permitting, permissions and release from obligations will take us into 2018 when construction is currently slated to begin,” Rogers said in a memo to City Manager Steven Buck. “We have worked very closely with Ranger in developing this agreement, using a lease already in place and approved by the FAA at the Denver International Airport.”
The project will bring the airport to a revenue neutral status so it will no longer require property taxation to support its general operations, Buck wrote in his report to the city council. He said it will significantly reduce the overall tax burden within the community while allowing a private company to develop a profitable business model to produce and sell clean domestic energy.
Buck said work on the solar project began about three years ago. At the time, he said, there was a moratorium on the development of solar arrays at airports. He praised Rogers and Ranger Solar (including Aaron Svedlow, the director of environmental permitting with Ranger Solar) for their work on the Sanford Airport Solar project.