2014-09-19 / Front Page

SoPo to act on climate plan

By Duke Harrington
Contributing Writer

SOUTH PORTLAND — Now that it has a “Clear Skies Ordinance” under its belt, capping a yearlong effort to frustrate any attempt to transport tar sands through the city, the South Portland City Council has doubled down on efforts to reduce its own carbon footprint.

At its most recent workshop, the council received a 202- page Climate Action Plan that, according to City Manager Jim Gailey, has been four years in the making, under the leadership of at least four primary authors.

“There has been some delay due to turnover of lead people, but it’s some exciting stuff and staff is eager to get going on implementing the recommendations in the plan.”

During a recent workshop, the council gave general assent to the plan, which includes among its key recommendations some items already on the table, such as the creation of a solar farm atop the old city landfill off Highland Avenue and the installation of more low-energy LED streetlights, to match the ones installed two years ago in Knightville. Other items that could hit the next annual budget include leasing three electric vehicles for use by city staff, with an eye toward eventually transferring the city’s entire fleet on non-emergency vehicles to electric power, and creating the part-time position of sustainability coordinator within city hall.

“Even if it’s only 20 to 25 hours per week, we need to have that person on board,” Gailey said, “because we do not have the capacity within existing staff to do the work that needs to be done.”

Gailey said the position was nearly funded last year for the current city budget, but was “one of the last things trimmed” from the annual spending plan in order to keep within council guidance on tax increases.

Gailey has said he will tweak the Climate Action Plan based on council comments at the workshop. It could be presented to the council for a first reading as soon as the Monday, Oct. 6 meeting. Generally, the council was on board with the plan, it only asked Gailey to provide more detailed information on potential savings from the various action steps.At its heart, the plan follows up on the U.S. Mayors’ Climate Protection Agreement signed by the city council in 2007. That agreement called on participating communities to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 17 percent before 2017. In South Portland’s case, that translated to a goal of 1,700 metric tons of CO2e, of carbon dioxide equivalent gasses, based on the 10,100 metric tons of CO2e the city was producing at the time.

In 2008 the council created an Energy and Recycling Committee and set it to work on the first phases of the reduction goal. That resulted in a sustainability resolve adopted by the council in 2010, which laid out a number of conservation practices.

“The one I like was (recognition) that everyone ‘needs’ a mini-fridge in their office,” Gailey said. “We made a real effort in getting all those consolidated and reducing the amount of refrigerators we have in our buildings.”

The city also entered into an energy savings audit with Siemens that, Gailey said, “played a huge benefit in our buildings.” The city ended up converting many of its buildings to natural gas, including used boilers installed in the fire and police departments, and began to focus on purchasing higher mpg vehicles. It also switched to LED lighting for the annual holiday festival and installed solar panels on the planning and development office. More recently, the assessor’s office has been hooked into that system.

It also has reduced costs from $340,000 per year to $218,000 at the sewer treatment plan through the addition of various energy conservation projects, said Gailey.

“It does mean a lot of savings for us in the future, and it’s where our community should be going,” said Councilor Patti Smith of the plan.

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