Potential solar energy contractors tour South Portland sites

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SOUTH PORTLAND — Potential bidders attended a tour Tuesday of 10 sites the city intends to power with solar energy.

City Manager Jim Gailey announced the city would move toward solar-voltaic infrastructure earlier this month. The city sent out a nationwide request for proposals on Sept. 4.

Sustainability Coordinator Julie Rosenbach and Parks, Recreation and Waterfront Director Rick Towle led the Sept. 22 tour. All of the interested bidders are Maine-based, with the exception of Nautilus Solar Energy of Summit, New Jersey, and Namaste Solar of Boulder, Colorado.

The Maine-based businesses included Portland-based ReVision Energy, Windham-based Green Sun, and Pittsfield-based Cianbro.

The 10 sites targeted for the solar project include the Wainwright Sports Complex, the future Municipal Services Facility and capped landfill, police and central fire stations, the public library, and the Redbank Community Center.

The city is seeking to lease rather than buy solar equipment and power through an agreement that will likely last up to 20 years, Gailey said.

Leasing makes more fiscal sense, he said in early September, because the energy vendor would charge the city to lease the equipment and buy electricity, which is usually a couple cents less than market cost. At some point, if it makes financial sense, the city could opt to buy the equipment.
“Cost is a really important factor, but it’s not the only factor,” Rosenbach said Tuesday. “We’re also looking at the competence of the firm and the financial benefit to the city.”
Ultimately, she said, her goal “is to get more renewable energy in our city.”
The city wants bidders to be creative, Rosenbach said Tuesday morning, which is why they have the option of bidding on any number, or all, of the sites. 
At the capped landfill and the future Municipal Services Facility, at 929 Highland Ave., Towle emphasized the flexible nature of the project. With the capped landfill, for example, there are “multiple uses” on the site, and the potential to provide power to surrounding neighborhoods.
Rocky Ackroyd, owner of Green Sun, said he didn’t think he was going to bid on the project because “it’s too big for us.” He said he wanted to get a closer look at what South Portland plans to do at its landfill, because “in Windham, we’re looking to do something similar.”
Ben Griffin, project development manager and co-owner of Namaste Solar, flew in from Colorado for the tour and said this was the first project in Maine that the company is considering, and that they’re interested in breaking into the New England region. 
Project bids are due to the city by Wednesday, Oct. 21.  

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

Rick Towle, parks, recreation and waterfront director for South Portland, talks to potential bidders for the city’s municipal solar project Tuesday morning. Bids are due to the city by Oct. 21.

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.