The city’s new solar array, celebrated by officials and renewable energy advocates on Tuesday, is generating electricity to help power city buildings.
by Randy Billings, Staff Writer
Portland Press Herald news story
Portland has completed a 4-acre solar array on top of the city’s old municipal landfill.
City officials and renewable energy gathered Tuesday to celebrate the project, which joins a similar project in South Portland as the largest municipal solar arrays in the state. Portland’s solar farm consists of 2,816 photovoltaic panels installed over the summer on the city’s former landfill on Ocean Avenue.
“I want to commend you all for being hearty enough to join us on this blustery day to celebrate the power of the sun,” Portland Sustainability Manager Troy Moon told a crowd of a few dozen onlookers who braved 23-degree air and strong northwesterly wind gusts to watch the ribbon-cutting ceremony.
Moon said the array is the city’s third solar array to come online this year and is by far the largest. On Dec. 10, it began producing an estimated 1.2 million kilowatt hours of electricity a year. A 23 kilowatt array was installed at the city’s Riverside Golf Course and a 450 kilowatt array was installed on the roof of the Portland International Jetport, which Moon said was the largest roof-mounted solar project in the state.
“As we strive to reach the ambitious climate goals established by our City Council, these arrays will be the beginning of many,” Moon said, referencing the city’s goal of running on 100 percent renewable energy by 2040 and reducing greenhouse emissions by 80 percent by 2050. “We will be working with the city manager to identify additional opportunities we can move forward in the future.”
Portland’s solar array, which was delayed for about a year because of environmental issues associated with a lack of maintenance at the landfill, is expected to produce 1.2 million kilowatt hours of electricity a year. That’s about 3 percent of the city’s municipal usage and enough energy to power City Hall and Merrill Auditorium for one year.
Fortunat Mueller, the co-founder of the Portland-based ReVision Energy, which installed the panels, said this is the third solar array installed on a capped municipal landfill in Maine and the company planned to open another next week in Eliot.
Mueller said Maine has about 1,800 acres of capped landfills — enough space for 250 more projects the size of Portland’s and South Portland’s arrays. Solar arrays on all of those acres would produce enough energy to power 70,000 homes for one year, he said.
With Democrats now in control of the governor’s office and state legislature, Mueller said he was optimistic about the future of clean energy in Maine, which faced significant headwinds under outgoing Republican Gov. Paul LePage.
“Transitioning Maine to a clean energy economy is not only a moral imperative, from an environmental perspective, but also one of the greatest economic development opportunities the state has ever seen,” he said.
Unlike South Portland’s solar project, which was completed on-time last year, Portland’s array was delayed because of long-neglected issues at the city landfill. A lack of regular maintenance and heavy foot traffic atop the 50 foot mound have compromised the landfill cap, causing toxic leachate to seep out and some of the trash to be exposed.
The Maine Department of Environmental Protection ordered the city to fix the issues before a permit for solar array could be issued.
The city spent roughly $455,000 to recap the landfill to allow the solar array to be installed, with $60,000 being reimbursed by the state, according to a city spokesperson, plus an additional $50,000 to connect it to the electricity grid.
The city still has another $1.1 million worth of work ahead to address the remaining issues flagged by the DEP.
The City of Portland and ReVision Energy celebrated the city’s solar installation at the Portland Landfill on Tuesday, Dec. 18, 2018. The 2,816 solar panels will produce 1.2 million kilowatt hours of electricity a year. Staff photo by Derek Davis
Mayor Ethan Strimling thanked community advocates for keeping the project on the council’s radar and credited Councilor Justin Costa, who represents the district, for pushing the project forward. Costa lead efforts to add $250,000 to the city budget last year to fund the first phase of the landfill remediation effort, the mayor said.
“We would not be here without your leadership,” Strimling said.
Costa said he was excited that the city was able to partner with ReVision Energy, which has an office only a mile away from the landfill, to complete the project.
“This is a major step forward to make our city cleaner, more sustainable and more environmentally friendly,” he said. “And I’m very excited we’re doing this in a completely local way.”
Other than the landfill work and grid connection fees, the city has not paid any money for the solar array. Instead, the city will pay a premium for electricity that is generated by the array and then have the option of buying it outright.
Officials say the city will pay 10.5 cents a kilowatt hour for the first two years, which will be increased by 2 percent annually thereafter. The city will have its first option to purchase the array in year seven at an estimated cost of $1.6 million, he said.
ReVision originally estimated that the array would begin turning a profit in 10 years, and possibly net the city $3 million over the 40-year life of the project. However, a third-party review by California-based Strategen Consulting was less optimistic, saying the best-case scenario is for $500,000 in the first 26 years.