South Portland eyes major solar energy expansion

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SOUTH PORTLAND — Powering city facilities with solar energy is now a tangible goal on the not-too-distant horizon.
A request for proposals was sent out to bidders across the country Sept. 4 by City Manager Jim Gailey for the installation of solar photovoltaic systems for eight municipal buildings and two sites. They include the police and central fire stations, the public library on Broadway, the Redbank Community Center, the Wainwright Recreation Complex, and the 28-acre capped landfill off Highland Avenue. 
“We thought this would be a good opportunity, and a good enticing project, not only for someone to review the solar farm that we’re proposing on the capped landfill, but also to look at other locations within the city’s assets for buildings that might be a good fit for solar panels,” Gailey said.  
Installation of solar panels at the landfill has been on the minds of city staff for a couple years. The City Council in November 2013 allocated $12,500 from city reserve funds to complete a feasibility study at the nearly 35-acre property.
The study, completed in March, concluded that the area is conducive to building enough infrastructure to provide up to three megawatts of energy. According to the study, completed by ReVision Energy, “a 3 megawatt solar array provides the electric power requirements of 600 homes based on average usage; or put another way, 46 percent of the current electric power needs of all municipal facilities in South Portland.” 
Testing is being done at the site to determine whether methane gas allowed to escape via candy cane-shaped white pipes across the acreage needs to be redirected to accommodate the project, according to the RFP. 
The city is seeking to lease rather than buy solar equipment and power through an agreement with an energy provider that will likely last up to 20 years, Gailey said.
Leasing makes more fiscal sense, Gailey said, because the energy vendor would charge the city a certain price 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.
Transitioning city infrastructure to harness more renewable energy sources has been one of several defined goals for South Portland since September 2007, when the City Council adopted a Climate Action Plan.
The plan outlines other environmentally sustainable measures the city should take, including “enhancing access to sustainable transportation modes, and recycling local waste in order to keep dollars in the local economy, support local green jobs, and improve community quality of life.” 
In 2007, it was calculated that the city had produced more than 10,000 metric tons of greenhouse gas emissions. As the plan was adopted, so too was the goal to reduce the city’s emissions by at least 17 percent by 2017. 
Since then, the city has moved toward change and increased awareness by installing public electric car-charging stations, purchasing more electric vehicles to replace gas-powered vehicles in the city’s fleet, hiring Julie Rosenbach last winter as sustainability coordinator, and setting a goal of incrementally increasing the collective recycling rate among residents. 
New construction projects also incorporate these elements, like the recently approved Municipal Services Facility. To be completed in 2017, the building’s features will conform to standards set by the Efficiency Maine Advanced Building Program
About four years ago, the city installed leased solar panels from ReVision Energy at the Planning and Development Department, at 496 Ocean St.
Gailey said the city is not yet considering photovoltaic systems for the public schools. “At this point we’re just focused on city buildings,” but in the future, “it could definitely go on the school side of things,” he said.  
“If we’re going to make a commitment to solar, this is the time,” Gailey said. 
A pre-bidding site tour of each location and facility will be offered on Tuesday, Sept. 22. Final bids must be submitted by Wednesday, Oct. 21. 

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

South Portland’s 35-acre capped landfill off Highland Avenue could be the site of a solar energy farm.

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.