Portland councilors will consider energy consortium, rule changes

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The Portland City Council this week will discuss joining a group effort that could ultimately reduce the city’s annual energy spending by up to half a million dollars.

Councilors will also be addressing proposed changes to rules governing public comment during their meetings. 

The council has been asked by city staff to pass an emergency order at its Wednesday, Feb. 19, meeting – usually held on Monday but moved to accommodate Presidents’ Day – so the city has time to join an energy consortium with several other businesses and organizations.

Portland city councilors voting on Monday, Feb. 3. They will meet next on Wednesday, Feb. 19, because of the Presidents Day holiday. (File/Jordan Bailey)

If it joins the consortium, the city will be able to purchase Net Energy Billing credits, which would allow it to develop solar projects and receive credit on energy bills.

Last fall, Gov. Janet Mills signed a law to reform the state’s energy billing policies. According to council meeting information, these changes included creation of a “net energy billing tariff” that allows municipalities and medium-sized businesses to develop solar projects and be compensated for the electricity produced with cash credits on their electric bills.

Net energy billing previously provided credits only in kilowatt-hours. Customers whose bills included electricity demand charges were not able to fully benefit because these kwh credits could not be applied to demand charges.

The consulting firm Competitive Energy Services invited the city to join in the consortium, and the firm issued a request for proposals from 19 developers representing more than 100 individual projects. As a consortium member, the city would be able to purchase a percentage of each of the most competitive projects.

The city would sign a power purchasing agreement to meet the consortium commitment of 20 million kwh. This represents two-thirds of the city’s total energy consumption, including the School Department.

According to the City Council information packet, this agreement could create a savings of up to $500,000 a year, which would begin when projects are completed and deployed.

The consortium request for proposals also included L.L. Bean, the University of Southern Maine, Nestle Waters and others. It requested more than 200 megawatt-hours; the city would contract for 10 percent of that under its Net Energy Billing Credits Agreement.

State law limits the size of eligible projects to 5 megawatts or less, and the city would enter an agreement with several projects to meet the consortium requirements.

City officials have expressed a desire to be 100 percent reliant on renewable energy and to eliminate carbon emissions in the future.

City staff requested a second reading of the order be waived to allow emergency passage.

Rule changes and more

Under its current rules, the council’s presiding officer can limit or cut off any commentary that is “not germane or that is scurrilous, abusive, or not in accord with good order or decorum.” 

Under the proposed changes, that is extended to language that “causes or incites disruption, or prevents the Council from conducting its business.”

Under council rules, a person who violates these rules can be ejected. New language states the individual may be ejected “by the Presiding Officer with or without the assistance of the police.”

The rule changes also state that public comment for items or proposals that did not have a hearing will occur at the first reading before the council. And if a member of the public wishes to discuss something not on the agenda, they can only do so after the agenda items are finished, and only once a month. 

Also Wednesday, the council is scheduled to vote to increase spending for construction of the proposed Deering Center roundabout, which will reconfigure the five­-way intersection of Brighton and Deering avenues and Falmouth and Bedford streets.

The bid price came in $660,000 higher than previous estimates; the new total project cost is just under $4 million and the new local share for the project is more than $985,000. Shaw Brothers Construction was the lowest bidder.  

The council will also vote to issue general obligation bonds to fund the 2021 Capital Improvement Plan, as recommended by the Finance Committee and City Manager Jon Jennings.

The five-year CIP has been in development since last summer, and calls for $18.3 million of new bond authorization. According to city documents, $6.5 million of that will be repaid through sewer and stormwater enterprise funds, and another $1.3 million will be funded by the state School Revolving Renovation Fund.

The document states the remaining $10.5 million was sized to offset the debt being retired in fiscal year 2022. Two orders are required: one authorizing the 2021 CIP bonds, and another appropriating funding sources for the several projects.