South Portland council eyes city-wide green building standards

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SOUTH PORTLAND — The City Council signaled support Wednesday night for a new ordinance that would require energy-efficient certification for some building projects, but did not move forward a specific proposal.

Instead, councilors are planning to hold a panel discussion with an expert on Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design certification, and with developers who either support or oppose a mandate to receive minimal certification for their projects.

LEED certification is a program run by the U.S. Green Building Council, a nonprofit group of nearly 20,000 organizations promoting energy efficiency and environmental sustainability and responsibility.

The group provides third-party consultants to oversee a building’s construction to ensure the reuse and proper disposal of materials and to confirm the implementation of systems that promote energy savings, water efficiency, carbon dioxide emissions reduction, improved indoor environmental quality and stewardship of resources and sensitivity to their impacts. 

City Manager Jim Gailey presented the council with three different ordinances from communities that require a basic level of LEED certification, including one recently passed in Portland, which requires basic certification for all city projects as well as those that receive federal, state or municipal funds.

Mayor Tom Blake was among four councilors who said South Portland should take a leadership position in mandating LEED certification. He said the city has an obligation to reduce its carbon footprint because it signed the U.S. Mayor’s Climate Protection Agreement. 

But Councilor Linda Boudreau was skeptical about South Portland experimenting with what she described as new technology. “I’d rather see us set up an incentive program,” she said.

Councilor Patti Smith, however, said the technology is not new and that the city could gain a competitive edge when it comes to attracting new residents and so-called green businesses. 

“I don’t think this technology is new. Solar has been around since the 1970s,” Smith said. “By doing this, we create the market and an impetus to move that market along.” 

Councilor Tom Coward said he supports the LEED requirements in principal, but wants more information before endorsing a specific set of regulations. Based on reports that LEED certification adds only 1 percent to 2 percent in construction costs, Coward said he the additional burden would not be too large.

“But I’m not ready to take the plunge,” he added. “I would like to have more debate about this.”

In other business, councilors delayed setting priorities for major capital projects while they await an evaluation of city finances. 

By the end of the year, councilors said they would like a presentation from the Finance Department about where the city stands in terms of debt relief. After that, councilors may consider putting a bond before voters for overdue maintenance of the city’s park and recreation facilities. 

Randy Billings can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 100 or