BELFAST, Maine — Belfast residents likely have gotten used to the array of solar panels that sits atop the Belfast Fire Station, generating electricity there since January to help offset the city’s massive electric bill.
Now there’s an addition proposed to Belfast’s solar capacity: a 115 kilowatt solar array to be installed on the closed city landfill off the Pitcher Road. Belfast city councilors heard a presentation last week about the proposal and may vote on whether to approve installation of the solar panels as early as Tuesday, Aug. 18.
“This system, combined with the firehouse system, is estimated to offset about 20 percent of the city’s electricity bill,” Assistant City Planner Sadie Lloyd said Tuesday. “That might seem to some people like not a lot, but the city has a large electricity bill. The amount of power it takes to run the wastewater treatment plant is humongous.”
She said the average electricity generated by the landfill system is estimated to be worth more than $21,000 per year, over the course of 15 years.
In 2013, the city spent a tenth of its municipal budget on oil, gas and energy, equaling about $320,000. Councilors have been trying to find ways to reduce Belfast’s energy costs for the past few years.
If the city approves the project at the landfill, it would partner with IGS Generation, a company based in Dublin, Ohio. That company would own the panels, and Belfast would lease the system to get the electricity from it. Belfast also would pay an energy premium to the Ohio company of about $10,000 per year for five years.
“That money essentially makes up for not having a state rebate or incentive,” Lloyd said. “This premium payment is what makes it possible for an investor to support the project without losing money.”
For the first year of the project, Belfast’s lease to IGS Generation would be based on a rate of 13.6 cents per kilowatt hour of generated electricity. That rate is based on the city’s current contract with its electric provider, Constellation Energy. After the first year, IGS Generation would charge Belfast a rate that will escalate by 2.25 percent each year. There are no upfront costs to Belfast, Lloyd said, and ReVision Energy of Liberty would do the installation and maintenance of the solar panels. That Maine firm also would manage the permitting process required through any state agencies.
After six years, Belfast would have the option to purchase the system from IGS Generation, at an estimated cost not to exceed $208,000. If city officials decide to do that, Belfast will own it outright and will see its energy bill decrease by the amount of energy the system generates, Lloyd said. The Belfast energy committee anticipates that the system would pay for itself after 14 or 15 years. ReVision officials said the expected lifespan of the solar panel system at the landfill is 40 years.
“What I like about it — besides the environmental impact — is, whether prices go up or down, we’ll get many years worth of electricity,” Councilor Eric Sanders said at last week’s regular council meeting.
Correction: In an earlier version of the story, figures were from a memo given to city councilors. The proposed numbers were later changed.