A local hotelier earned praise Monday as the South Portland City Council enthusiastically endorsed a zone change that would allow Suresh Gali, owner of the Howard Johnson hotel, to install a solar array to help power the facility.

A final vote on the zone change, which has already received the thumbs-up from the Planning Board, is scheduled for Aug. 17. Solar arrays are not allowed in the residential A zone, so Gali has requested that part of his property be rezoned as limited business.

Gali already has installed solar panels at his two other hotels in South Portland – the Days Inn, on Maine Mall Road, and the Quality Inn & Suites, located on Main Street, not too far from the Howard Johnson, which is on the corner of Main and Westbrook streets on the west side of town.

Those previous projects consisted of solar panels being affixed to the roof. For the Howard Johnson solar array, which is about twice the size of the other two, Gali is planning a ground installation on a 11?2 -acre plot behind the hotel. The property to be rezoned is located between the Maine Turnpike connector road and the Landry Village affordable housing development.

The total project cost is expected to be around $900,000 for 900 solar panels that would be installed in five rows on a concrete foundation. Rocky Akroyd at Green Sun Alternative Energy Solutions, who put up the solar panels at the Days and Quality inns, would be the contractor for the job.

Gali told the council Monday that his motivation for going solar at all of his hotels and his own home, as well, is because of his sincere belief in renewable energy options.

In addition, he’s also a proponent of conservation and has installed low-energy LED lighting at the Howard Johnson, which, he said, has resulted in a savings of 26,200-kilowatt hours per month.

In the spring, Gali told the Planning Board he expects the new solar array at the Howard Johnson to generate 354,033-kilowatt hours of electricity annually, which represents a little less than half of the hotel’s annual power needs.

Generating a good amount of his power through the solar array should save Gali around $53,000 per year on his electric bill, but that’s not the only reason he is installing the panels.

In his application for the zone change, Gali pointed out that the city’s comprehensive plan calls for energy efficiency by South Portland residents and businesses and that the city’s stated goal is reduce the amount of greenhouse gas emissions by 17 percent in the next couple years.

Councilors thanked Gali Monday for being forward thinking and for being a leader among local business owners.

Mayor Linda Cohen called his three solar projects “doing something in a big way,” and Councilor Claude Morgan called the solar array proposal at the Howard Johnson an “excellent project.”

The Planning Board called it, “a great model” in a highly visible location, which will show other business owners and residents what can be done in terms of converting to green energy production.

While the council was fully supportive of the zone change requested by Gali, Councilor Tom Blake noted that changing the zone from residential to limited business more than doubles the density allowed.

That’s what led him to call on his fellow councilors to discuss allowing solar panels to be installed in all zones across the city.

“We should allow solar in any zone to encourage and promote” green energy initiatives, Blake said.

Both Cohen and Morgan agreed, with both saying solar energy generation should be allowed in every district to make it easier for residents and businesses to install solar panels and reduce their demands on the energy grid.

The owner of the Howard Johnson in South Portland is seeking a zone change that would allow the installation of solar panels to help offset the hotel’s power needs. Staff photo by Kate Irish Collins


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