Falmouth to explore municipal solar energy farm

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FALMOUTH — The town is exploring the feasibility of installing solar panel arrays on town-owned property, and has a specific location in mind.

Kimberly Darling, the town’s energy and sustainability coordinator, said the capped landfill on Woods Road, adjacent to the transfer station, is under consideration for a large-scale solar photovoltaic array that would offset municipal power demand.

Darling said there is a lot to do in a short time, however, because as a 30 percent federal tax credit expires Dec. 31, 2016. After that, the tax credit will probably fall to 10 percent.

“We’ve got our work cut out for us,” she said.

The town has hired engineering firm TRC Co. to conduct a geotechnical and feasibility study that will take between six and eight weeks. The study’s findings will be presented to the Town Council.

“Since this project is very time sensitive, we’ve allotted eight weeks in our project timeline,” Darling said. “I’m confident they’ll have it back by that point.”

Towns and municipalities are not allowed to take advantage of the tax credits, so Falmouth would have to partner with private third-party investors who would lease the arrays. While Darling said there has been some “initial interest” from third-party investors, the project will be put to out bid with a request for proposals. Town Manager Nathan Poore said staffers do not have any specific third-party investors in mind.

“Once it shows itself to be feasible, that’s when we would craft (an RFP) and put it out to bid,” Poore said.

Darling said Falmouth will enter an agreement to purchase power from the investor and after several years will have the option to “buy the system outright at a depreciated value.”

Attorney Ben Lund of the firm Brann & Isaascon will help craft the RFP. Lund helped develop the legal documents for Maine Audubon’s solar array project last year at Gilsland Farms. The town also met with the Maine Department of Environmental Protection over the summer for a pre-application meeting and preliminary site visit. It will submit an application to the DEP if the feasibility study come back positive.

While the timeline is subject to change, Darling said, the RFP will tentatively be awarded in late summer 2016, with the project expected to be completed by December 2016.

Between the school and municipal facilities, Darling said the town uses about 4 megawatt-hours, and the solar array would offset municipal power usage.

According to Darling, a general rule of thumb is 1 MW of power from solar arrays per four acres. The landfill is roughly four acres, but Darling said state law limits the output to 660 kilowatts. One MW is the equivalent of 1,000 kW.

Darling said town officials do not yet know how much the town would save,  because it comes down to the proposals received. She said there will be more discussions about finances next week.

She said the town is exploring solar power because it is committed to reducing carbon emissions.

“A lot of those efforts done in the past are really driving Falmouth to look at these renewable cleaner options,” she said. “We have commitments to look at our impact.”

Colin Ellis can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 123 or cellis@theforecaster.net. Follow him on Twitter: @colinoellis.

The former Falmouth landfill, now the town’s transfer station, is being explored as the possible site of an array of solar panels.

Reporter covering the Portland Public School District as well as the town of Falmouth for The Forecaster. Can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 123 or cellis@theforecaster.net.