CUMBERLAND — Officials are looking into installing a solar array on top of the town’s capped landfill, a project they say could allow Cumberland to generate cleaner energy from the sun while reducing its carbon footprint and shrinking expenses in the long run.

Town Manager Bill Shane has spent several months discussing proposals with Denny Gallaudet and Eric Fitz, members of the Cumberland Climate Action Team. Shane said the discussion began when the nearly complete expansion of the Central Fire Station, which has infrastructure that could support solar panels on the roof, led them to ask, “‘Could we do something bigger?'”

Cumberland officials were also inspired by South Portland, which installed a solar array on its capped landfill last year. Portland is among the other southern Maine communities planning to install solar panels atop old landfills, although the city ran into problems because of needed repairs to the landfill cap.

“It’s a very popular thing across the country, because landfill space is absolutely unusable,” Shane said, noting that Cumberland’s landfill is composed of about 4 acres of gently sloped land around which there are no trees. “It makes it great for solar capacity.”

Shane discussed the concept with ReVision Energy, which recently installed a 160-panel array at the Cumberland Animal Clinic on Greely Road, and they agreed a project would be feasible at the landfill.

The Town Council received data on the benefits, and Gallaudet and Fitz will make a formal presentation to the panel on Feb. 12.

According to information provided by both men, the town spends about $120,000 annually on electricity, including about $70,000 to $80,000 for nine municipal properties, including Town Hall, the Val Halla Golf & Recreation Center, Central Fire Station, public works garage and Prince Memorial Library. A 1,600-panel array could generate the roughly 650,000 kilowatt-hours consumed by those facilities, which accounts for 80 percent of the municipal government’s total energy consumption.

Cumberland would have a company install the panels at a cost of about $1.2 million. To take advantage of federal renewable energy tax credits and reduce expenses, the array would be sold through a power purchase agreement to an outside investor – in South Portland’s case, Florida-based Kenyon Energy.

When the tax credits expire in six years, the town would purchase the array at a 50 to 60 percent discount, according to Gallaudet and Fitz.

If the cost is about $500,000, down from the $1.2 million original cost, “for a half a million dollars, now you have electricity for free for the next 20, 25 years,” Shane said.

Similarly, seven members of the Cumberland Congregational Church formed CCC Solar, a company that paid about $35,000 to have a panel array installed on the sanctuary roof of the 282 Main St. church in 2016. Once it recovers its investment, the company plans to sell the array to the church “at a nominal cost,” according to Lalla Carothers, CCC’s “green team” coordinator.

The town could take some action within the coming months because of an anticipated change in net metering regulations. While towns can currently buy the power they need, and sell it when it generates an excess – a one-for-one swap, Gallaudet and Fitz said – state regulators are due April 30 to reduce the net metering benefit for excess generation by 10 percent.

“The renewable energy credits go from 100 percent down to 90 percent, so the tax incentive is less,” Shane said. “That’s why we’d like to get this done, and get the documentation signed, in early April, so we can get in the queue for 100 percent.”

The Town Council could vote on the project in late March or early April.

Alex Lear can be contacted at 781-3661 ext. 113 or at:

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