The stars are lining up for Maine’s largest city to pursue major solar energy projects in the coming year.

Portland officials are considering a proposal to follow in South Portland’s footsteps and act to create a solar energy farm at a capped landfill. The city is also considering adding solar panels to several city-owned buildings.

On Tuesday, a local business began a push to have the city take it a step further by installing solar panels on highly visible public lands – such as along Baxter Boulevard and West Commercial Street – as a “working work of art” and education project.

“The city is already actively pursuing a solar project for the capped landfill and we think complementary to that would be a public installation on the peninsula,” said Will Kessler, owner of the Portland-based Renewable Energy Development Associates, which submitted a plan to city officials on Tuesday.

City Manager Jon Jennings and Mayor Ethan Strimling said energy sustainability is a priority for the city. Both were optimistic about efforts to establish a solar farm at the Ocean Avenue landfill. They were also both interested to learn more about Kessler’s unsolicited proposal before offering an opinion.

During the election, Strimling set a goal of generating 25 percent of the city government’s electricity needs through solar within the next decade and his recent restructuring of city committees was designed place more of a focus on renewable energy in the coming year.

“I think what we’re doing is a great first step,” he said. “Unfortunately we’re far behind and we need to be a leader on renewable energy and in solar in particular. (I’ll listen to) anybody who is trying to help us move toward solar and alternative energy so we can reduce our energy costs and reduce our carbon footprint.”

Last month, city officials presented a proposal from ReVision Energy to install solar panels on four city buildings and the city’s 44-acre landfill on Ocean Avenue, which is closed and capped. It was the only proposal the city received in response to a request issued on June 15.

Jennings said the proposal for the city’s nearly landfill on Ocean Avenue must first be vetted by the city’s Land Bank Commission, since the parcel is designated as a recreational area.

It’s unclear whether the solar project would have to clear additional protections enacted by voters in 2014 in response to the attempted sale of Congress Square plaza. Those additional protections require the support of eight of the nine councilors in order to develop or sell a property in the city’s land bank. If only six or seven members of the council were to approve the solar project, it would need the approval of voters to move forward.

If the project moves forward, it could generated roughly 6 percent of the electricity used by city and school buildings, while reducing greenhouse gas remissions by more than 1,300 tons per year, according to Nov. 13 memo to the City Council’s Transportation, Energy and Sustainability Committee.

“We’ve been talking about renewable energy for a while,” said Troy Moon, the city’s manager of environmental programs and open space. “From my perspective this is exciting.”

The proposal calls for 2,916 solar modules to be installed at the old landfill at 990 Ocean Ave. Each module would be about 77 inches by 39 inches and arranged in 10 rows.

Solar panels are also proposed on the roofs of the Portland Arts and Technology High School on Allen Avenue, King Middle School on Deering Avenue, Portland International Jetport and the Portland Public Library storage facility on Riverside Street.

The goal is to move the project forward in time to take advantage of federal tax credits that expire in 2016.

Steve Hinchman, director of finance for ReVision Energy, said he is working with the city on financing the project.

In order to take advantage of federal tax credits, which are only available to for-profit companies, Hinchman said ReVision would install and operate the solar array for six years. The city would be required to purchase electricity from the company at a premium – roughly 3.5 cents per kilowatt-hour above the current rate, which was not immediately available.

If the city purchases the solar array, it could see a savings of about 2 cents per kilowatt-hour over the 40-year life span of the panels.

If the city does in fact generate 6 percent of the roughly 35,600,000 kilowatt-hours of electricity it uses each year, it may see an average annual savings of $42,700.

Hinchman said ReVision is in the process of building a solar farm at a landfill in Belfast. The company is also working with South Portland.

Such projects are part of a growing trend, he said.

“Up and down the East Coast they’re converting landfills to solar arrays,” he said. “When you think about it, it’s a perfect reuse of land that has been taken out of commercial production permanently.”

Solar projects are more difficult in Maine, he said, since the state does not offer any financial incentives in addition to federal incentives that will expire next year.

“Portland and South Portland are clearly committed to developing sustainable energy and they’re being very creative to try to make this happen,” he said. “They want to be part of the creative green economy. That’s the kind of leadership the state desperately needs.”

Randy Billings can be contacted at 791-6346 or at:

rbillings@pressherald.com

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