SOUTH PORTLAND — In October 2017, Julie Rosenbach flipped the switch that started the largest municipal solar project in Maine.

Also one of the first in the state, the 2,944-panel array was expected to generate 1.2 million kilowatt-hours of energy per year – roughly 12% of the electricity used by the city’s municipal and school buildings. And it met that goal.

But the panels covered only a small portion of the 34-acre capped former landfill behind the public works facility on Highland Avenue.

Julie Rosenbach, sustainability director for the city of South Portland, stands near the recently completed solar array that will offset 63% of the city’s electric load. Gregory Rec/Staff Photographer

Rosenbach, the city’s sustainability director, felt both a sense of accomplishment and a need to do more.

“Looking out over the landfill area, there was so much more potential,” she recalled this week. “We did this great thing, but we knew we could do more. Now, we’ve done more.”

Five years later, the city is celebrating an expansion project that quadrupled the array’s reach to 12,746 panels. A ribbon-cutting is set for 2 p.m. Thursday.


This expansion puts the South Portland facility at the front of the pack once again, with the largest power-generating capacity of any municipal solar landfill project in Maine, according to the Maine Department of Environmental Protection.

The expanded array will generate an estimated 5.8 million kilowatt-hours of energy each year, offsetting 63% of the electricity used by city and school buildings and saving taxpayers more than $20 million over the 40-year life of the panels, Rosenbach said.

It also will offset 4,100 metric tons of annual carbon emissions, moving the city closer to its goal set in 2020 to reduce greenhouse gas emissions 80% by 2050. Including other solar projects in the city, 82% of the electricity used in South Portland’s municipal and school buildings will now be offset by solar, Rosenbach said.

The race for municipal solar has become a crowded field, with 17 other municipal landfill solar projects completed or underway across the state, including arrays in Portland, Westbrook, Windham, Falmouth, Gray, Cumberland, Wells, Eliot, Belfast, Waldoboro, Tremont, Damariscotta and Oakland.


South Portland’s 3.36 megawatt facility eventually will be eclipsed by Fairfield, which is expanding its array to 4.3 megawatts, and Caribou, which is building a 5.9 megawatt array, although a large portion of that project will be beyond the landfill cover, said Matt Young, DEP landfill remediation project manager.


“It’s great to see the explosion of communities engaged in these energy and cost-saving projects,” said Hannah Pingree, director of the Governor’s Office of Policy Innovation and the Future. “In every part of the state, people of every party are seeing the benefits to ratepayers and taxpayers, especially when using former landfills that otherwise would lie fallow.”

Rosenbach credited Gov. Janet Mills with making policy changes that paved the way for South Portland’s expanded solar facility.

Soon after Mills took office in 2019, she created the Maine Climate Council, committed the state to carbon neutrality by 2045 and pushed for a net metering policy that opened up the solar market in Maine. The state has seen a 300% surge in solar capacity and is on track to meet its goal of using 80% renewable resources for electricity by 2030.

A recently completed solar array on top of the capped landfill in South Portland, along with the existing solar array, will generate an estimated 5.8 million kilowatt hours of electricity each year, offsetting 63% of the city’s electric load.  Gregory Rec/Staff Photographer

Former Gov. Paul LePage, Mills’ challenger in the November election, said during a recent debate, “We can’t have solar farms. We have to have farms that grow food.” He also has suggested that global warming might be a scientific hoax and vetoed a 2013 study to prepare the state for its impacts.

South Portland paid nothing to install the solar panels. Instead, the city has partnered with ReVision Energy and Calibrant Energy to cover upfront costs and is paying a below-market rate for electricity generated by the array, Rosenbach said.



After seven years, the city will have the option to purchase the system at a reduced price and own all of the solar power generated.

“Delivering sustainable solar energy with flexible financing will provide economic and environmental benefits to the area for decades to come,” said Thomas Biddinger, Calibrant’s partnerships director.

Investing in renewable energy is a primary strategy of One Climate Future, the city’s joint climate action and adaptation plan with neighboring Portland. It contains 68 strategies to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and build sustainability and resiliency in each community.

Both cities have led the state and the nation in taking steps to reduce solid waste and other pollution, save energy and natural resources, move away from plastics and fossil fuels, and protect the environment in general.

Because the cost of solar technology has fallen 90% over the past two decades, South Portland residents stand to reap significant economic and environmental benefits from the expanded solar facility, said Phil Coupe, co-founder of ReVision Energy.

The recent Inflation Reduction Act is expected to further reduce clean energy costs, Coupe said, making solar power, heat pumps, battery storage and electric vehicles the most attractive options for homeowners, businesses and municipalities.

“Transitioning society from fossil fuels to renewable energy and clean technology is the biggest infrastructure project in the history of humankind,” Coupe said, “and one of the greatest wealth creation opportunities of the 21st century.”

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