Cape Elizabeth to explore solar power project

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CAPE ELIZABETH — The Town Council during a workshop Monday directed Town Manager Matt Sturgis to pursue a solar project recommended by an ad hoc committee in 2016.

Councilors also reviewed a recommendation from the Fort Williams Park Committee on how to mitigate commercial vehicle traffic at the park. 

The Alternative Energy Committee in 2016 began exploring and recommending ways the town could invest in solar power, but their recommendations were never pursued because of “other pressing issues,” according to Council Chairwoman Jessica Sullivan. 

Councilor Chris Straw recently requested that the council revisit the matter, specifically, installing a large-scale solar array on town land near Gull Crest at the transfer station. It’s land Straw said can’t be used for anything else. 

Straw said it’d make sense for the town to move forward “sooner rather than later” with this option because there is no upfront cost to the town if a power purchase agreement with a vendor is utilized to construct the system. 

According to a January 2017 report from the committee, it is recommended that an agreement have a buyout provision, with the town taking over the system after seven years. 

The federal government gives a 30 percent Investment Tax Credit for solar arrays on residential and commercial properties. However, municipalities can’t take advantage of the credit because they don’t pay taxes. Towns and cities often set up PPAs with investors, who use the tax credits and give a “guaranteed electricity rate for a time period,” then sell the system to the town after the credits have expired. 

With a seven-year buyout plan, the committee estimated the town would see $1.7 million in savings over the life expectancy of the array, which is 30-35 years. Should the town not decide to buy out the system after seven years, the “total realized saving after the same period would be $107,000,” according to the report. 

The buyout, according to the report, is estimated to cost the town $515,000. 

“I think what we’ve been presented sufficiently justifies itself in that any change in the economics between two years ago and now makes it even more appealing because the price of solar panels continue to drop,” Straw said. 

With the council’s blessing, Sturgis will draft a request for proposals.

“We just need to see what we can get … in order to start this process,” Straw said, noting that he’d like to see the project get underway in the next six months. 

Commercial vehicles

The purpose of a report by the Commercial Passenger Vehicle Subcommittee under the Fort Williams Committee was to “enhance the safety, manage the patron density … and improve the infrastructure while reducing the taxpayer burden of commercial vehicle traffic in Fort Williams Park.”

The committee’s report recommends eliminating commercial van and bus traffic, with the exception of trolleys and local senior citizen vans, from Captain Strout Circle in front of the Portland Head Light.

Park Director Kathy Raftice said the committee was looking at Captain Strout Circle from a “safety perspective.”

Buses and vans would be directed to park and unload in central parking, which is about 200 yards from the circle. For that reason, the committee suggested improving access to the lighthouse in compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act, such as enhanced walkways and additional benches and railings as needed.

Portland Head Light Museum Director Jeanne Gross said she worried about deterring those with disabilities from visiting the park and questioned whether there could be an exception for buses and vans with disabled passengers to drop them off in the circle. 

Committee member Jim Kerney said that had been considered and the thought was, most of the people who sign on for bus tours would bring some kind of personal transportation, such as a scooter. 

He added the report recommends building awareness around the new policy, such as reaching out to motorcoach companies to let them know that central parking would be used 200 yards away. 

The report also suggests implementing a commercial vehicle fee based on capacity. By looking at how many passengers each type of vehicle accommodates and how frequently they visit the park, the committee estimated the fee structure creating almost $58,000 in revenue for the 2018 season.

For instance, the recommended 2019 fee for vans and limos would be $25 for a single visit and $550 for a season; for a minibus, it would be $50 per visit and $2,100 for a season. 

The committee also recommended school buses and school-associated camp buses remain free and having private camp buses pay the commercial fee.

Councilor Sara Lennon suggested a year-by-year percentage increase for fees so companies know what to expect, as many purchase passes to the park years in advance. 

The council on Monday agreed that they’d like to explore which fees would be appropriate to impose on companies in order to move the fee schedule forward. Sturgis will gather suggestions from the council and send them to the committee to consider adding them to their report. 

Jocelyn Van Saun can be reached at 781-3661, ext. 183 or jvansaun@theforecaster.net. Follow her on Twitter @JocelynVanSaun.

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