SOUTH PORTLAND — Electrical generation in the city could have a sunny future after councilors on Monday approved spending for a study of a solar “farm” at the landfill off Highland Avenue.
By a unanimous vote, the Town Council allocated $12,500 from city reserve funds for a feasibility study to be conducted by Portland-based Revision Energy to determine if the capped landfill could be used for an array of solar panels.
Revision Energy installed solar panels at the city Planning and Development offices on Ocean Street in February. Data provided by Planning Director Tex Haeuser shows the panels have reduced energy costs by 19 percent at the office and at the city assessing office on Thomas Street.
City Economic Development Director Jon Jennings said Wednesday the savings at the Assessing Department accrue from Central Maine Power Co. credits accumulated from excess energy generated at the Planning Office.
Solar energy panels at the Planning Office have resulted in a $627 savings in electricity costs from March through September, when compared to the same months in 2012. The excess power not used in the office has also created more than 1,600 watts of power in a “bank” of credits that can offset electricity costs this winter.
The feasibility study for the solar farm will consider solar and electrical engineering, financial aspects, and perhaps recommend a geotechnical analysis of the landfill, which was capped more than 20 years ago.
Haueser noted other communities have used landfills for solar farms, but said a basic geotechnical question is whether the land could support the panels on concrete pads.
A preliminary estimate put the cost of further engineering and permitting at about $60,000, which Haeuser said should include the geotechnical study. The feasibility study should provide a firmer cost estimate, he said, and ultimately, engineering and construction work would be put out to bid.
Jennings said Wednesday he sees three possible models for using generated power: municipal use, possible assistance to lower-income households in the form of credits from excess power sold back to CMP, or leasing panels to entrepreneurs.
Information supplied to councilors indicated the feasibility study could be done by Dec. 8, but that was based on a start date of Nov. 8.
The solar farm initiative is the second effort made this fall to explore uses of alternative energy sources. Last month, the city was loaned an electric car as part of Maine Clean Communities program funded through a grant from CMP.
Jennings at that time said there is a possibility the city could replace its fleet of non-emergency vehicles with electric vehicles. On Monday, Mayor Tom Blake speculated a solar farm could eventually provide power for the fleet.