Cost drops, South Portland moves closer to solar project

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SOUTH PORTLAND — A revised proposal to partner with Portland for solar arrays at capped landfills in both cities will cost less than expected.

Steve Henchman, marketing director of solar energy contractor ReVision Energy of Portland, told the City Council Aug. 22 that the proposed cost to the cities has been reduced to $0.1056 per kilowatt-hour of electricity, from $0.1245.

The project is expected to start generating revenue in its seventh year and pay for itself in the 11th year. Throughout the life of the project, the city is expected to save more than $3 million, Sustainability Coordinator Julie Rosenbach said in the proposal.

Initial construction costs for each project would be reduced by $325,700, or 12.5 percent.

The project will go before both the South Portland and Portland city councils for formal approval Sept. 7 in separate meetings. If South Portland approves, construction will begin during the winter, with the arrays operational by spring. The city will go ahead with a solo project even if Portland declines, according to municipal officials.

Each array would have nearly 3,000 panels and generate 1.2 million kwh of renewable energy each year. The panels are expected to offset about 12 percent of the city’s total energy consumption.

“I’m so excited to see this come back, I can’t even stand it,” Councilor Linda Cohen said at Monday’s workshop. “This is probably one of the most exciting things we’ve done in awhile in our community. “

The council has been examining the potential for a solar array at the former landfill off Highland Avenue since 2014. Last September the city sent out a request for proposals to install the array after it was determined that the 35-acre property, where the new Municpal Services Facility is being constructed, would be a good location for a large-scale array.

The solar project aligns with the city’s Climate Action Plan, adopted in 2007 as a way to seek out alternative sustainable energy methods, and to reduce the city’s carbon emissions.

“As a long-term economic strategy, solar is the lowest-cost energy source,” Henchman told councilors. “When you look at a solar project, what you’re really trying to do is figure out what’s the least cost pathway to ownership,” he said. And the proposal presented Monday is the most financially viable ReVision has seen so far, he said.

Other Councilors were equally enthusiastic about the project.

“Financially, I feel like we’re in the best position possible to take on a project like this,” Patti Smith said.

The project is the “best thing … not just for today, but for future councilors, for future community members,” she said. “Being an energy leader in the state is really something ot be proud of.

“This is really a legacy project that, in my mind, is one of the best projects you can give ot a community.”

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

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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.