New Tools from Maine Audubon Help Towns Navigate Solar Development
Maine is in the midst of a new era of renewable energy development, spurred by legislation that requires 80% of Maine’s electricity to come from renewable resources by 2030 and 100% by 2050. These targets are amongst the most ambitious in the country and are necessary to stave off the worst impacts from climate change.
As we all know, Maine’s solar and wind resources can go a long way towards helping to reach the target goals. But with the tremendous opportunities provided by solar and wind energy come siting challenges for planners. For example, some communities are now trying to ensure that large-scale solar developments don't conflict with other municipal goals or conflict with wildlife and wildlife habitat. Like any new land use or development, if not thoughtfully sited or operated, renewable energy development could unduly impact local natural resources, trigger permitting reviews, impact sensitive species, and cause other issues.
To help, Maine Audubon’s ecology and policy experts have created a suite of resources to guide developers, municipalities, and decision-makers toward realizing the benefits of renewable energy, while locating and operating projects with wildlife and habitat in mind. Maine Audubon's Solar Toolkit, available to help planners and others dealing with these decisions, can be found at maineaudubon.org/advocacy/solar/.
Solar Toolkit Overview
The newest resource in the Toolkit is a Renewable Energy Siting Tool, a GIS mapping tool that allows users to view natural resources, renewable energy potential, and other layers in Maine towns to help identify low conflict areas better suited for renewable energy development.
Elsewhere in the Toolkit, Model Site Plan Regulations and Conditional Use Permits are designed to help planners support solar energy development in Maine municipalities. Towns like Freeport and China have already used these models in drafting their own ordinances.
The Best Practices for Low Impact Solar Siting, Design, and Maintenance document is an overview guide to help towns avoid and minimize impacts to natural and agricultural resources, with a tiered preference approach to suitable lands.
Finally, coming soon: a guide to planting native, pollinator-friendly vegetation at solar project sites, helping to restore natural resource values at newly-disturbed sites.
Have questions? Want more information? Maine Audubon's team behind the Toolkit, including Conservation Biologist/GIS Manager Sarah Haggerty (email@example.com) and Advocacy Director Eliza Donoghue (firstname.lastname@example.org), are available to help answer questions about these resources and how planners and municipalities can best take advantage of locally-produced renewable energy.
Nicholas Lund, Maine Audubon
Nicholas Lund lives and birds in southern Maine. He is the outreach and network manager for Maine Audubon and runner of The Birdist blog.