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Initiative Could Move Several Maine Large Scale Electricity Users To Solar Power

Toby Talbot
AP File
People gather in front of a bank of solar panels on Friday, May 18, 2012, in East Montpelier, Vt.

A consortium of Maine businesses, the University of Maine and, possibly, the city of Portland could band together to procure a slug of solar energy that could power as many as 40,000 homes.

Last year Gov. Janet Mills and the legislature enacted a suite of measures to incentivize buildout of solar power production in Maine — a turnaround from the administration of Gov. Paul LePage, who put the squeeze on what incentives there were.

One new opportunity could allow large-scale electricity users to jointly contract for solar energy and, when solar arrays built to serve the contract produce more electricity than needed, sell that excess back to the regional grid. That could create a significant revenue stream and offset much of the cost.

"Just our participation in this consortium represents about two-thirds of our total city and school department load, and we're excited about doing because it makes a good step in the direction of the City Council's goal of running the city on 100 percent renewable energy," says Troy Moon, Portland's sustainability coordinator.

Plus, Moon says, the project could save the city hundreds of thousands of dollars per year, compared to its existing utility costs. The initiative is being put together by a Portland company called Competitive Energy Services, which has completed similar efforts in southern New England.

No contracts have been signed yet, but in addition to Portland, potential participants include the University of Maine, L.L. Bean, Pratt & Whitney and the Jackson Laboratory.

Portland's City Council will consider the proposal Tuesday.

A Columbia University graduate, Fred began his journalism career as a print reporter in Vermont, then came to Maine Public in 2001 as its political reporter, as well as serving as a host for a variety of Maine Public Radio and Maine Public Television programs. Fred later went on to become news director for New England Public Radio in Western Massachusetts and worked as a freelancer for National Public Radio and a number of regional public radio stations, including WBUR in Boston and NHPR in New Hampshire.