Portland’s City Council will consider joining forces with other large-scale energy users to encourage construction of new solar farms throughout the state in return for getting a cleaner energy source at a lower cost.

Councilors will discuss the proposal Wednesday and are expected to vote on whether to allow the city manager to join the new consortium and commit to purchasing a certain amount of electricity from it in the future.

Troy Moon, the city’s sustainability coordinator, said the city could save an estimated $500,000 a year in energy costs once the solar arrays are developed for the city and other consortium members, including L.L.Bean, the University of Maine System and Nestle Waters.

It would also allow the city to make progress toward its goals of using 100 percent renewable energy and eliminating carbon emissions by 2040 or sooner.

“It’s one of those great opportunities where the taxpayers can save money by reducing utility costs, while taking a step towards meeting our sustainability goals,” Moon said.

Moon said he believes the consortium, assembled by the Portland-based Competitive Energy Services, is the first of its kind in Maine to take advantage of a bill passed last year allowing municipal and medium-sized businesses to receive cash credits for renewable energy use.


Before the rules were changed, municipalities could only receive credit for the excess electricity their solar farms produced. Now they can receive cash credits, Moon said.

The bill also expanded the cap on the number of customers who can receive power from a community solar farm from nine to 200. Community solar farms are like a subscription service that reduces costs through efficiencies, including eliminating upfront costs.

The city said councilors are being asked to allow City Manager Jon Jennings to sign an agreement to buy a percentage of the energy produced by the new solar farms. The council could vote as soon as Wednesday.

In addition to the cash credits, the city would also save money by getting a lower kilowatt hour cost, because the consortium would be buying electricity in bulk.

City Councilor Spencer Thibodeau, who leads the Sustainability and Transportation Committee, said it is similar to purchasing health care as part of a larger group.

“It’s a strength-in-numbers type thing,” Thibodeau said.


CES received solar farm proposals from 19 developers, representing 119 separate projects, in response to its request for proposals for renewable energy providers, according to the city. State law limits the size of each solar farm to 5 megawatts, or 20-25 acres, Moon said.

Moon said the city’s solar power supply would be provided almost entirely by new projects.

It’s unclear where the new solar farms would be built. A spokesperson from CES did not respond to an interview request Friday.

Moon said the city will not incur any start-up costs for joining the consortium and that it could take 2 1/2 years for the city to realize its full savings.

Once the solar farms are developed, Portland expects to purchase 20 million kilowatt hours of electricity a year, which would provide two-thirds of the power used by all city and school operations.

By contrast, the 4-acre solar farm the city recently built on the Ocean Avenue landfill provides 1.2 million kilowatt hours of electricity annually, roughly enough to power City Hall and Merrill Auditorium.

With limited land available for new solar farms in the city, Thibodeau said the consortium would provide Portland with another avenue to meet its sustainability goals.

“From the sustainability perspective, this is a really important step we have to take,” Thibodeau said. “The goal is nice but this is a really good action toward that goal.”

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