Back to the drawing board for South Portland solar project

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SOUTH PORTLAND — After announcing plans to install solar photovoltaic units at 10 municipal sites and putting out a request for proposals this fall, the city rejected all three bids it received. 
“All the proposals, we felt, were not in the city’s best interest,” City Manager Jim Gailey said Wednesday. 
Through the RFP, the city initially wanted to create solar voltaic installations at locations that included the city’s wastewater treatment plant, Wainwright Field, the Redbank Community Center, the capped landfill off Highland Avenue, emergency services, and City Hall. 
Bidders were allowed to bid on any or all of the projects. Ameresco, Revision Energy and Energy Systems Group submitted bids, but their proposals only included the landfill. 
The remaining sites were not considered because bidders believed many of the buildings are too small to support solar infrastructure on the roofs, Gailey said. 
Moving forward into another round of RFPs, staff will likely only include the landfill as a site for solar infrastructure, he said.
That doesn’t mean the option of installing solar panels on city buildings is out of the question, but it will probably come later, Gailey said. 
The grid that is constructed at the landfill will provide power to a web of “small electric accounts” across the city, including smaller buildings such as City Hall. 
The intent is to install the solar system in three phases of 648 kilowatt-hours each, Gailey said, for a total of 3 megawatts. 
Installation of solar panels at the landfill has been on the minds of city staff for a couple years. The City Council in November 2013 allocated $12,500 from city reserve funds to complete a feasibility study at the nearly 35-acre property.
The study, completed last winter, concluded that the area is conducive to building enough infrastructure to provide up to 3 MW of energy. According to the study, completed by ReVision Energy, “a 3 megawatt solar array provides the electric power requirements of 600 homes based on average usage; or put another way, 46 percent of the current electric power needs of all municipal facilities in South Portland.” 
Transitioning city infrastructure to harness more renewable energy sources has been one of several goals for South Portland since September 2007, when the City Council adopted a Climate Action Plan.
The plan outlines other environmentally sustainable measures the city should take, including “enhancing access to sustainable transportation modes, and recycling local waste in order to keep dollars in the local economy, support local green jobs, and improve community quality of life.” 
In 2007, it was calculated that the city had produced more than 10,000 metric tons of greenhouse gas emissions. As the plan was adopted, so too was the goal to reduce the city’s emissions by at least 17 percent by 2017. 
Since then, the city has moved toward change, and increased awareness by hiring Julie Rosenbach as the city’s sustainability coordinator. Public electric car-charging stations have also been installed and, as of last Friday, a total of four Nissan Leaf electric cars have been purchased for use by city employees. In addition, city officials have set a goal of incrementally increasing the collective recycling rate among residents. 
Earlier this summer South Portland became the second city in the state to adopt a ban on polystyrene and impose a 5 cent fee on single-use bags at food retailers around the city. The measure will go into effect March 1. 
Gailey expects city staff will turn around another request for proposals quickly, so construction can begin in March or April and provide energy to the grid by December 2016.  

Alex Acquisto can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 106 or Follow Alex on Twitter: @AcquistoA

The 28-acre capped landfill off Highland Avenue will be the primary site for new municipal solar photovoltaic infrastructure in the near future. 

South Portland and Scarborough reporter for The Forecaster. Graduate of Western Kentucky University and the Salt Institute for Documentary Studies. Alex can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 106.