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Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Portland to spend stimulus for energy uses

The City Council votes to hire the city's first full-time 'sustainability coordinator.'

By TOM BELL, Staff Writer June 16, 2009

PORTLAND — The City Council voted Monday to spend nearly $700,000 in federal stimulus money to hire the city's first full-time "sustainability coordinator" and invest in energy-efficiency improvements.

Such coordinators are now common in large corporations, universities and a growing number of cities, and are typically energy conservation experts.

The council approved spending $168,000 for the position – salary and benefits for three years. It agreed to spend the rest of the money, $520,700, on energy improvements such as new lights, insulation, heating system improvements and weatherization.

The improvements will be based on recommendations of an energy audit that is due to be complete by the end of this month.

The city hired Framingham, Mass.-based Ameresco Inc. earlier this year to do a $150,000 energy audit and develop options for how the city can lower its energy bill.

The city could then decide to enter into a performance contract with Ameresco, which would act as a general contractor for the project.

If that happens, the $150,000 audit cost will be rolled into the contract. If the city does not move forward on the project, it will pay Ameresco for the audit.

The concept behind performance contracts is simple: They leverage money saved on energy and operating costs to pay for building improvements.

By using the federal stimulus dollars on the energy upgrades, the city will benefit sooner from the savings generated by the investment, said Councilor David Marshall, chairman of the council's Energy and Environmental Sustainability Committee.

"What we want is the biggest reduction in our carbon footprint for our dollar," he said.

Because of the energy audit, the savings will be easy to calculate, putting Portland in a strong position to seek more money for similar programs from the federal government, he said.

The project is on the fast track. The city will receive $250,000 from the federal government by the end of this month, and the rest of the money later this year.

Councilor Cheryl Leeman expressed concern about creating a new position when the federal funding is available for only three years.

"This is a one-time infusion of money," she said. "I don't want to hire someone and have to lay them off."

The city owns 55 buildings, not including the Portland International Jetport, which is not part of the audit, and spends roughly $8 million a year on energy.

Staff Writer Tom Bell can be contacted at 791-6369 or at:
Copyright 2009 by The Portland Press Herald/Maine Sunday Telegram. All rights reserved.

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