South Portland Starts Farming Solar Energy

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SOUTH PORTLAND — With the flip of a switch Tuesday, the city’s new solar farm officially became the largest municipally owned array in the state. 

“It feels good,” Mayor Patti Smith exclaimed while flipping on the system’s switches. 

A few dozen people – including city officials and employees, representatives from ReVision Energy and members of the public – came out for the event on the morning of Oct. 17. 

The new solar array is at the city’s 34-acre capped landfill at 929 Highland Ave., behind the transfer station and new public services facility. 

The farm consists of more than 2,900 solar panels in six long rows. According to a joint release from the city and ReVision Energy, the array is expected to generate 1.2 million kilowatt-hours of clean, renewable energy per year, which will equal about 12 percent of the electricity used by the city’s municipal and school buildings.

Over the 40-year life of the project, the city is expected to save more than $3 million.

The City Council approved the installation of the photovoltaic array by Portland-based ReVision on Feb. 22. A groundbreaking ceremony was held July 18. Construction began about a month earlier when an access road was built, fencing was installed and other work was completed.

“Today is an exciting day,” Smith said Tuesday. “It is the future of our community. I hope we can be a model for other communities and for residents who may want to use solar to power their homes and electric cars.”  

She added, “It’s  been so long coming, it almost feels like a dream.”
Smith said the city worked on a plan several years ago; a study found “it was technically possible, but economically not feasible.”
She said partnering with Portland on the project, coupled with falling solar-energy costs, helped make the project possible.

Construction of an identical system at Portland’s Ocean Avenue landfill was slated to take place at the same time, but has been stalled. 

Fortunat C. Mueller, co-founder of ReVision Energy, said compliance issues with the Maine Department of Environmental Protection have delayed construction in Maine’s largest city. He said the DEP wants more materials added to the landfill; he hopes construction will begin over the winter.

According to Josh Baston, a project manager at the energy company, the solar array has a 25-year warranty, but the life expectancy is 40 years. The array has been engineered to withstand high winds and heavy snow, with Baston calling it an “increasingly popular system across the country.” 
Mueller told the crowd that cold, sunny days provide ideal weather conditions to produce peak power.
“Colder is better for solar panels and they do better on colder days,” he said. 
The city doesn’t actually own the solar array. To take advantage of tax credits and bring down costs, the array will be sold by ReVision to a third-party investor, Florida-based Kenyon Energy. According to Mueller, the deal is in the works and should be finalized within the week. 

However, Mueller said, in six years the tax credits will run out and the city will be eligible to purchase the array at fair market value. 

ReVision officials said the solar array will be used to power the new public works facility; the excess energy generated will go back into the grid, for which the city will receive credits from Central Maine Power. This will offset costs for other municipal buildings and schools.  

Julie Rosenbach, the city sustainability coordinator, is excited about the project, which meets one of South Portland’s climate action goals.

“It has been years of work,” Rosenbach said. “It was built in three months and now it’s being turned on.”

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