Portland and South Portland approved plans Wednesday night to partner in a project to build solar farms on old landfills in each city, creating two of the state’s largest municipal solar installations.

The Portland City Council unanimously approved a contract with Portland-based ReVision Energy that passed with little discussion despite an independent analysis by a California-based consultant that outlined a scenario in which each city could lose money – an outcome that Portland city leaders said was highly unlikely.

Afterward, Mayor Ethan Strimling said the solar project was “a great step” toward his goal of using solar to power 25 percent of the city’s homes, businesses and public buildings over the next 10 years.

“It’s both symbolic and practical,” Strimling said. “We have a lot of work to do. We have a long way to go to confront climate change.”

Across the harbor, the South Portland City Council unanimously authorized the interim city manager to sign separate power-purchase and licensing agreements with ReVision. Under the joint project with Portland, ReVision will install a 2,992-panel photovoltaic array on South Portland’s capped, 34-acre landfill at 929 Highland Ave.

Portland’s solar farm would consist of 2,816 panels on its 44-acre landfill off Ocean Avenue.

JOINING A MUNICIPAL SOLAR TREND

ReVision Energy has installed solar projects for municipalities and schools throughout Maine and New Hampshire, and company co-founder Fortunat Mueller said the arrays in Portland and South Portland would be the largest to date.

The company recently completed the first solar installation on a municipal landfill in Maine – an array in Belfast that went on line in January.

South Portland councilors praised the municipal project and a zoning ordinance aimed at regulating and encouraging private solar systems as evidence that the city is “embracing solar” and moving away from dependence on fossil fuels toward clean, alternative energy.

Councilor Linda Cohen, who recently added solar panels to her home, encouraged people to take advantage of tax credits and other incentives that can make solar installations more affordable.

“Don’t believe all the bad hype that’s out there. (Solar energy is) a good thing,” Cohen said. “Fossil fuels are not an infinite supply, but there’s a heck of a lot of sun out there.”

On track for installation this spring, each array would generate 1.2 million kilowatt-hours of energy a year, providing 12 percent of the electricity used by South Portland’s school and municipal buildings and 3 percent of Portland’s usage, or roughly enough to power City Hall and Merrill Auditorium.

The arrays could potentially save each city money in the long run because they would be generating their own power instead of purchasing it from the grid.

ReVision Energy will build the solar arrays because the private, for-profit company will be able to take advantage of federal tax credits, unlike municipalities, which are nonprofits.

BIG POTENTIAL PROFITS … OR MAYBE NOT

Each community will purchase the electricity from ReVision at rates higher than traditional pricing for the first six years, before being able to buy the equipment outright for nearly $1.6 million. South Portland will pay an additional $31,000 annually in electrical costs over that initial six-year period and Portland an additional $25,000 annually. Portland will have to pay an additional $50,000 to connect the solar farm to the grid.

ReVision originally predicted that each city would make money after 10 years and potentially make $3 million over the 40-year life of the projects. But an outside review by California-based Strategen Consulting outlined a worst-case scenario in which the projects could cost Portland more than $400,000 over the next 26 years and South Portland more than $433,000,

The third-party review was conducted at the request of Portland City Manager Jon Jennings. The cities split the $8,000 cost of the study.

Staff Writer Kelley Bouchard contributed to this report.

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

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