Maine Historical Society puts sun to work as Portland sets green goal

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PORTLAND — As city councilors vowed to work toward a greener future April 20, the Maine Historical Society was embracing that future to protect the state’s past.

At a press conference outside City Hall, Councilor Spencer Thibodeau said the Sustainability & Transportation Committee he leads will begin exploring ways to fuel municipal operations with 100 percent “clean” sources by 2040.

“We believe this is an attainable moon shot,” Thibodeau said as he was joined by Mayor Ethan Strimling, Councilor Belinda Ray, Maine Sierra Club Director Glen Brand and attorney Tica Douglas, who leads the Portland Climate Action Team organized by the Sierra Club.

Across town at 1000 Riverside St., workers from ReVision Energy were installing more than 300 solar panels on the roof of a storage warehouse shared by the Maine Historical Society and Portland Public Library.

MHS Executive Director Steve Bromage said the panels should power about 75 percent of the warehouse systems used to control climate and lighting, and also to preserve the collection of artifacts. The items, previously stored at 489 Congress St., have been moved over the last three years.

Installing solar power required about $400,000 in fundraising, including $300,000 from a National Endowment for the Humanities grant.

Bromage noted the NEH is threatened by budget cuts suggested by President Donald Trump’s administration. He said the grant was vital for the preservation of historical artifacts, maps, manuscripts and documents.

The library storage space is not linked to the panels, but the MHS does offer some shared space to help preserve items such as old newspapers.

The solar panels will produce 112 kilowatt hours of energy, and also power a quarantine area where new items can be stored while mold or other contaminants are removed.

On Tuesday, Thibodeau’s committee began reviewing the 2008 Municipal Climate Action Plan endorsed by councilors. First, the committee needs to assess energy usage in city buildings and what options are available for a sustainable course that eliminates fossil fuel usage.

The city has already embarked on a program to benchmark use in municipal and commercial buildings in the city; an Ocean Avenue solar farm that will power City Hall is scheduled to open this summer.

The benchmarking ordinance passed in November 2016 was developed by former Councilor Jon Hinck, who led the committee now comprised of Thibodeau and Councilors Jill Duson and Belinda Ray.

Details on how the goal will be attained are still undetermined, but could involve more solar power and purchasing carbon offsets.

While Strimling noted the plans for renovating four city elementary schools would certify them for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, known by the “LEED” acronym, how the entire school system fits into the goal has not been determined.

The pool water heater at Reiche School, 166 Brackett St., is solar powered, and Strimling said three school buildings could accommodate solar panels. He also believes the goal can be attained sooner than 2040.

“It is important we walk the walk first,” he said.

The council resolution that is the basis of the committee’s work makes the city one of 27 in the nation and the second in New England to commit to the 100 percent goal, Brand said. Burlington, Vermont, was the first regional city to make the commitment.

“It is consistent with who we are as a city,” Douglas said.

Thibodeau said making the commitment is critical.

“This is our first step,” he said. “We have a long way to go.”

David Harry can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 110 or dharry@theforecaster.net. Follow him on Twitter: @DavidHarry8.

Jack Doherty of ReVision Energy totes a solar panel on the roof of the Maine Historical Society’s Riverside Street storage facility in Portland on April 18. (Dan D’Ippolito)

Maine Historical Society Executive Director Steve Bromage delves into the history of Great Northern Paper on April 20 in a Riverside Street storage area soon to be powered by solar energy.

City Councilor Spencer Thibodeau announces a goal to end the use of fossil fuels to power municipal buildings by 2040 outside Portland City Hall on April 20. “We believe it is an attainable moon shot,” he said.

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Portland City Hall reporter for The Forecaster. Baltimore native, lived in Maine since 1989. A journalist since 2005, covering much of Cumberland and York counties. I joined The Forecaster in 2012.