South Portland solar energy farm remains on track

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SOUTH PORTLAND — The City Council Monday night approved continued pursuit of a joint solar energy project with Portland.

The cities are proposing construction of two solar farms, at South Portland’s landfill, off Highland Avenue, and in Portland, at the Ocean Avenue landfill.

The trailblazing projects, if they reach fruition, would be the largest of their type in the state. The first solar landfill project in the state was completed by Portland-based ReVision Energy last fall in Belfast.

For South Portland, the proposed $2.6 million solar farm would generate 1.2 million kilowatt hours of energy each year, offsetting about 12 percent of municipal and school energy consumption, Sustainability Coordinator Julie Rosenbach told councilors at the March 14 workshop. 

The solar power would offset the city’s carbon dioxide emissions by more than 1.3 million pounds, or 655 tons per year, Steve Hinchman, director of financing for ReVision, told councilors.

The city has been exploring how to expand its use of solar power, both on municipal buildings and at the 35-acre capped landfill, since ReVision installed solar panels on the roof of the assessor’s office in 2012 and at the Planning and Development offices on Ocean Street in early 2013.

Early last September it issued a request for proposals to bring solar infrastructure to not only the landfill, but to nine other city-owned properties, including the Wainwright Recreation Complex, the Redbank Community Center and the central police and fire stations.

The city received two bids for the project, and ultimately rejected both, “because neither deal structure was in the best interest of the city,” Rosenbach wrote in a March 10 memo to City Manager Jim Gailey.

Earlier this winter, finding it financially viable, the city decided to piggy-back on Portland’s solar landfill proposal with ReVision.

The joint venture would save both cities nearly $326,000 in up-front construction costs. They would sign six-year power purchase agreements with ReVision, which means they would essentially lease the equipment from the energy company and pay a premium for the cost of electricity generated during that time – about $50,000 each year.

The cities would receive federal tax credits, and in the seventh year would have the option of buying out their solar systems at a reduced price.

Factoring in the initial costs of the power purchase agreement, and assuming the city would purchase the solar equipment in year seven, over the 40-year life of the solar panels the city is estimated to save between $2 million and $5 million in energy costs, Hinchman told councilors.

“I don’t want to underestimate the fact that we view this collaboration as a really, really great opportunity, not only to save money,” Rosenbach said, but as a joint effort to bring renewable energy to the region. 

The proposal will come back before the council in April or early May. 

In the meantime, Rosenbach and Planning and Development Director Tex Haeuser will travel to Augusta Wednesday to lobby for the passage of LD 1649, which would create more economic incentives through the use of solar power and make the rates for this proposal “more favorable,” Rosenbach said. 

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

South Portland’s 34-acre landfill, off Highland Avenue, could be the site of a solar energy farm.

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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.