WARREN — A proposed solar farm that would be the largest in New England was unanimously approved during a Thursday evening meeting Aug. 11.

The Planning Board went down the list of requirements under the town’s site plan ordinance on Aug. 11 and ruled the project met all of them. The Board did place conditions on that approval including that the project must receive approval from all other regulatory agencies. The Board also required that the developer place adequate natural screening between the solar farm and neighboring properties.

Another condition is that the developer will be required to fund a reforestation account to be used by the town. The amount will be negotiated by the select board and developer before construction begins. During construction, work must be limited to 7 a.m. to 8 p.m.

The Board also required a performance bond with the amount to be reviewed by an independent engineering firm selected by the town. The bond would ensure the property would be returned to its natural state when the solar farm is decommissioned with the estimate of a minimum of 20 to 25 years.

The Thursday night review lasted nearly three hours.

Planning Board Chair Jason Tourila said the current estimate is the project would pay a one-time $1.25 million building fee to the town which equals Warren’s annual municipal budget. The developer would then pay about $1 million in property taxes, beginning in the first year.

At a meeting last month, the town’s assessors’ agent said the project would be a game changer for the town.

Tourila cautioned that after two years, the town would lose $260,000 annually in state revenues because the added value of the solar farm would increase the town’s state valuation. State valuation determines amount of state revenue sharing with the wealthier communities (in terms of state values) receiving less money. The town would also lose some state aid because the education formula gives less to the more property wealthy communities.

The $125 million to $150 million Warren Meadow Solar Station would be located adjacent to Wotton’s Mill Road and extend to Carroll Road and encompass much of 675 acres. There would be a power substation, 63 shipping-sized containers with batteries, and 200,000 solar panels. The property is located adjacent to a Central Maine Power transmission line.

The primary access for construction vehicles would be an existing entrance from Wotton’s Mill Road.

The project, if approved, would generate enough electricity to power the equivalent of 18,450 homes for a year, according to the developer.

Residents have voiced concern about the impact on their property values, the impact on roads, fire safety, and whether there would be sufficient assurance that the company would cover the costs of decommissioning.

While the town has no ordinances that specifically regulate solar farms, Glenvale Solar Farm founder Aidan Foley said at the July meeting that the company designed the project expecting more stringent ordinances. Planning Board member Shawn Saindon said at the Aug. 11 meeting he expects the project would have met the terms of the ordinance under development.

The town is considering ordinances to regulate solar farms but Planning Board Chair Jason Tourila said in July any ordinances adopted by the town would not affect the current application since it has already filed a completed application.

Assessors’ Agent Jim Murphy said last month it was too soon to know if neighboring residential property values would be reduced because of the solar farm. He said he would need data before knowing if values should change.

The company has not requested a tax increment financing district but one may be sought. A tax increment financing district would shield much of the additional value from the state valuation which would result in the loss of state revenue sharing and additional school commitment. A TIF would also return some of the increased tax revenues to the company, often for infrastructure.

A TIF could not be approved without a town meeting vote. If approved by residents, the Select Board would then negotiate terms of the TIF.

The Planning Board chair said comparing the proposed solar farm to the rifle range scenario, in which the town approved the project on Route 90 and was left with tons of waste stored on the site more than 20 years later, was not apples to apples and “not even apples to oranges.” He said the DEP acknowledged a lack of oversight over the rifle range project.

The Maine Department of Environmental Protection is expected to decide on the project this fall, the developer said.

The developer said last month, in response to a question, solar panels are not being bought from China but from Thailand and Malaysia.

The plan was first submitted to the town and the Maine Department of Environmental Protection in March. The Warren Planning Board found the site plan application complete at its May 12 meeting. A site visit was held at the property on June 2.

The land would be leased from property owners who include John Hart, E.C. Hart and Thomas Watson. Watson serves on the Planning Board but has recused himself from participating in the review. The land is currently used for timber harvesting and has gravel pits.

The application by the company, based in Jamaica Plain, Mass., states the development would create jobs for local residents (200 jobs at the peak of construction); contracting opportunities for local businesses including tree clearing, site work, electrical, surveying, support conservation and recreational opportunities and establish a habitat for pollinators.

Construction is expected to begin before the end of 2023. The project needs approval from the Maine Department of Environmental Protection and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

“Once operational the project will generate emission free electricity for decades, offsetting over 4,000,000 tons of carbon dioxide emissions over forty years. In the first year of service, emissions avoided by Warren Meadow Solar Station will equal the carbon sequestered by 214 square miles of forest,” the company states.