The Mills administration is formally seeking bids to install solar panels on the Blaine House capable of supplying 50 percent of the electricity needs of Maine’s historic governor’s mansion.

In a request posted Friday, the administration is seeking proposals for a “turn-key” solar power system that would be up and running by July 15. The RFP estimates that the solar array would need to generate 35 to 45 kilowatts – roughly five to seven times the size of a typical, household solar power system in Maine – to supply half of the mansion’s electricity.

Gov. Janet Mills announced the Blaine House solar initiative during her inaugural speech this month, part of a pledge to “embrace clean energy” in the residential, business and government sectors.

“These actions will create good-paying jobs, preserve our environment, and welcome young people to build a green future here in Maine,” Mills, a Democrat, said during her Jan. 2 inauguration. “And, by the way, when you drive by the Blaine House in the next few weeks, look for the new solar panels that we are going to install.”

The move is also viewed as a clear rebuke of the stance taken by her predecessor, Republican Gov. Paul LePage, toward segments of the renewable energy industry. During his eight years, LePage repeatedly sought to undercut policies aimed at encouraging development of solar and wind power because he viewed them as too costly.

It is unclear how much installing solar panels on the Blaine House will cost. But the RFP seeks proposals “from qualified vendors to design, install, finance, own, operate and maintain” a photovoltaic system on the mansion. That’s because the state plans to enter into a “power purchase agreement” in which the state will finance the installation costs by buying the solar power from the vendor at a specific rate, typically lower than the retail electricity rate.

The RFP states the project should also be self-funding, “meaning the savings experienced by the State of Maine from reduced electrical expenses will offset the cost of purchasing the installation in an early buyout scenario” as part of the power purchase agreement.

Built in 1833, the Blaine House is a sprawling building located directly across Capitol Street from the State House. The house is named for James G. Blaine, the colorful and controversial former speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives, U.S. senator and secretary of state who purchased the building in 1862.

It is registered as a National Historic Landmark. And because of its historic status, any solar installation will require approval from the Capitol Complex Historic Zoning District as well as the Friends of the Blaine House nonprofit organization.

Bernard Fishman, director of the Maine State Museum and an ex-officio member of the Friends of the Blaine House board of directors, said he believes it is apt for a governor’s mansion to serve as a model when it comes to environmental responsibility.

“I think it’s a statement about Maine and how the people of Maine should be thinking about renewable energy,” Fishman said on Friday. “Obviously, there are all sorts of issues with the panels and appearance of the panels. And we wouldn’t want them to grossly (alter) the appearance of the house. … But I think the notion of making the Blaine House a showpiece for beneficial technologies … that point to the way of the future is a very reasonable idea.”

While LePage was viewed as being fiercely “anti-solar” by installers and the environmental community, he did make significant facility upgrades that lend the Blaine House to solar power. In 2014, LePage converted the sprawling mansion to electric heat powered by roughly two dozen heat pumps that also provide air conditioning in the summer.

That conversion dramatically reduced the need to operate the Blaine House’s oil-fired burner for heat. In turn, solar panels are expected to cut into the Blaine House’s electric bill, which was $11,292 last year.

The conversion has already won the support of a descendant of the mansion’s namesake.

In an email to Mills, James G. Blaine’s great-great-grandson, Walker Blaine, wrote that he was “delighted to hear about the solar panels.”

“We found this a good omen since we just got solar running on our own home in Nova Scotia a few days ago,” Walker Blaine wrote. “Thank you for your commitment to renewable energy, one of the many pieces we need in place to leave a better world for our global family.”

Bids on the solar installation are due by Feb. 28.

Kevin Miller can be contacted at 791-6312 or at:

[email protected]

Twitter: KevinMillerPPH


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