SOUTH PORTLAND — The prospect of banning gasoline-powered lawn equipment is raising concerns that the city is pushing its eco-friendly policies too far, too soon.

While some residents and lawn care companies support the move to electric mowers and leaf blowers, others worry that it would hurt some businesses and lower-income homeowners.

Kenny Roberts, who manages C.K.C. Landscaping and has mowed lawns in the area for more than 20 years, said his profit margin would just about evaporate if he had to use commercial electric mowers that can cost twice as much as gas equipment of comparable size and power.

“I’d have to stop mowing in South Portland,” Roberts said. “It’s going to hurt everybody and the price of having your lawn mowed is going to go up.”

City councilors were set to hear a progress report Tuesday night on the city’s climate action plan, including proposals to ban gas-powered lawn equipment and adopt a pay-as-you-throw trash collection program. However, the presentation was canceled because of storm-related power outages and will be held at a future date.

If the council directs staff to move forward with drafting a ban, South Portland could be the first municipality in Maine to require battery-powered lawn equipment.


Rachel Burger, president of the citizens’ group Protect South Portland, said members have yet to consider the lawn care proposal, but likely would support it.

“It would fit with our history,” Burger said, noting that the group supported the city’s pesticide ban in 2016.

Exactly who would be impacted by the ban and how it would be enforced remains to be seen because city officials have yet to issue a draft of the proposal. But Burger said it likely will apply to the use of equipment rather than the sale of blowers and mowers, similar to the pesticide ban.

Cathy Chapman has been mowing her lawn on Beaufort Street with an electric mower for more than a decade. She recently purchased a new $800 model, forgoing less expensive models because she wanted a self-propelled mower that mulches.

“I support the idea of requiring electric lawn equipment,” Chapman said, “but I’m concerned about people having to buy a new mower if they can’t afford it, especially now, with people being in trouble money-wise with the economy.”

Chapman said a ban should be phased in and that rebates that the city is currently offering for battery-operated equipment should be extended in the future. She also suggested that the city partner with an area business to offer lawn equipment at cost.


Roberts, with C.K.C. Landscaping, acknowledged that electric mower technology has improved, but he questioned whether batteries that run for 12 hours on flat terrain down South would last on Maine’s rougher terrain.

“Things have come a long way, but the technology and manufacturing isn’t there yet,” he said.

Joel Bamford, owner of Maxwell’s Cutting Edge Landscaping in Cape Elizabeth, also questioned whether current electric lawn care equipment could do the job. He looked into buying a battery-powered commercial mower recently and found that an electric model comparable to his $18,000 top-of-the-line gas mower would cost $35,000.

“I’m always interested in what’s best for the environment, for my workers and for my customers,” said Bamford, whose company also mows lawns in South Portland and Scarborough. “I think these are very good intentions. I don’t know that the technology is ready.”

California has banned the sale of new gas-powered mowers and leaf blowers starting in 2024, under a zero-emissions law that would impact weed trimmers, chainsaws and other similar equipment. In recent weeks, legislators in Rhode Island and Minnesota have introduced similar proposals that drew opposition from manufacturers, dealers and landscapers.

Bamford suggested South Portland phase in any restrictions, focusing on residents first and allowing commercial operations to test the viability of electric equipment.


Jason Batchelor, owner of Sweet Pea Lawn Care in South Portland agreed, but said he supports a ban wholeheartedly.

“I’m an environmentalist at heart and I’m all for saving the planet,” he said.

Batchelor started his one-person operation in 2017 using all electric equipment. He upgraded to a commercial mower in 2020, paying $18,000 compared to the $10,000 he would have paid for a gas mower, he said.

“I can’t exactly charge my customers double what others charge,” he said, but he makes other business decisions that keep his costs down, like limiting his customer base to South Portland, Cape and Scarborough, which limits travel time and expenses.

Batchelor suggested the city start with residents and focus on small equipment, like leaf blowers and weed trimmers, then move on to mowers and eventually include commercial operators. He also recommended extending rebates and other incentives to landscaping companies that buy electric equipment.

The city’s sustainability staff had scheduled a council workshop Tuesday to discuss the proposals. Instead, Sustainability Director Julie Rosenbach will give a “refresher” on the city’s One Climate Future plan and related council resolutions that call for transitioning municipal operations to 100% clean energy by 2040; reducing greenhouse gas emissions 80% citywide by 2050; and “rapidly phasing out” the use of fossil fuels and technologies that rely on them.


Rolled out in 2020, One Climate Future is a joint plan with neighboring Portland that outlines steps to reduce the region’s carbon footprint. The city has made strides to increase sustainability in recent years, including a ban on foam food containers, an expanded municipal solar array and a recent requirement that new or rebuilt parking lots include spaces and infrastructure for vehicle charging stations.


Portland’s sustainability and transportation committee has asked for a presentation about how other cities have implemented restrictions on gas-powered lawn equipment, Sustainability Director Troy Moon said.

“It is a subject the committee is still considering because it is a strategy described in One Climate Future,” Moon said in an email. “We also recognize that we would want to engage with the community about this and ensure any proposed regulation would be phased in to give people time to prepare.”

While One Climate Future doesn’t mention such a ban, it does call for powering “almost everything” with electricity, including cars, buses, ferries and building heating systems.

Waste reduction strategies outlined in One Climate Future include adopting a pay-as-you-throw trash collection program similar to one in Portland, where residents buy trash bags that effectively set a unit price for residential solid waste and promote recycling, including through food waste collection programs.

A proposal for South Portland’s pay-as-you-throw program is “in progress” and should be implemented by 2026, according to the draft of Rosenbach’s presentation.

Adopted in 1999, Portland’s pay-as-you-throw program “has had a measurable impact on reducing municipal solid waste production from residential homes,” the climate plan states. To leave trash for weekly curbside pickup, Portland residents must use purple trash bags sold at area stores that cost $1.75 per 15-gallon bag or $3.50 per 30-gallon bag.

A study of Maine communities that send trash to the ecomaine incinerator in Portland found that cities and towns without pay-as-you-throw programs generated nearly twice as much trash per capita, the climate plan states. In 2017, Portland generated 268 pounds of residential trash per capita, while South Portland generated 491 pounds.

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