2016-03-18 / Community

Sustainable SoPo

Expanding solar in South Portland and Maine

Energy generated from solar photovoltaics (PV) is becoming an ever increasing viable alternative for homeowners, businesses and governments that want to transition away from energy derived from fossil fuels. Installing PV on appropriate buildings or unusable land such as a capped landfill will offset greenhouse gas emissions and save money over the long term. The generation of renewable energy on South Portland’s capped landfill has long been identified as one of the city’s climate action goals. An update for the solar project was presented at a city workshop on Monday March 14. A brief synopsis is below:

A feasibility study for the potential of solar on the landfill site was conducted in April 2014, which concluded a solar array up to 3 megawatts was feasible. An array that size would generate enough energy to offset approximately 40 percent of South Portland’s (including schools) annual electricity consumption, or just under 500 average size homes. With this information the city sent out requests for proposals to develop the site. Only receiving two responses, the city rejected them as they were not financially viable.

In an act of cooperation with Portland, which was pursuing a similar project on its Ocean Avenue landfill, the two cities negotiated with local solar company ReVision Energy. Under the current proposal, both cities would each install a 920 kW DC (660 kW AC) system at the same time. This is the largest array possible under current Maine Public Utilities Commission Net Metering (the current mechanism where solar producers are credited for the energy they produce in a one to one ratio) rules. By combining projects, the initial construction cost was reduced by $325,700 (or 12.5 percent) for each system. This first phase would offset nearly 12 percent South Portland’s energy consumption.

The city would pay a premium for electricity generated in the short term by entering into a Power Purchase Agreement with a third party that is able to take advantage of solar tax incentives. When the system becomes cash positive in year seven, the city will have an option to purchase the system outright, and projected payoff in year 18. Given the expected lifespan of solar panels is 40 or more years, over the long term the city will save substantial sums in energy costs.

Both Portland and South Portland will negotiate together to maximize savings if the projects go forward. Additionally, the economics of the project may change with pending legislation in Augusta. A draft bill, LD 1649, would replace net metering with fixed long term contracts. The purpose of the bill is to remove current constraints making solar more feasible by removing the limit and size of arrays enabling expansion of the sector and creating jobs. If this bill becomes law it would likely make the rates for the city more favorable.

You can learn more about this bill by contacting your local representative, and if you are in favor of expanding locally derived clean energy, please advocate for LD 1649.

The South Portland Energy and Recycling Committee meets the third Wednesday of each month at the South Portland Community Center. Meetings start at 6:30 p.m. and are open to the public.

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