Yarmouth council pulls the plug on solar initiative

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YARMOUTH — The Town Council established a Renewable Energy and Sustainability Advisory Committee, but without the explicit charge of facilitating a group solar-energy purchasing program. 

By a vote of 4-3, the council May 17 also opted not to nominate a member to serve on the Maine Municipal Association Legislative Policy Committee, an appointment that Chairwoman Pat Thompson said would be a “disservice” to the council and Yarmouth residents. 

In January, the council rejected Councilor April Humphrey’s original proposal for a “Solarize Yarmouth” program that would have provided a joint purchasing option for solar panels from a selected provider for residents and businesses. In April, she came back with “Solarize 2.0,” which would allow a pool of installers to participate in the program, rather than just one. In order to do so, she proposed establishing a task force and also looking at other sustainability options in town.

Along with Humphrey, Councilors Tim Shannon and David Craig voted in favor of the motion to endorse the task force as proposed.

However, Councilor Jim MacLeod moved to amend Humphrey’s resolution to replace “task force” with “advisory committee” for the sake of consistency and to eliminate the portion that directed the committee to undertake a group solar purchasing program as its first order of business.

MacLeod, Thompson, Plourde, and Vice Chairman Rob Waeldner voted in favor of the amendment. 

Plourde said he recognizes the importance of a “community-based energy policy,” but was not in favor of including the group solar purchasing program language. 

MacLeod echoed Plourde’s sentiment, saying he has never been in favor of the town taking any part in selecting solar providers. 

“However, I do support an advisory committee similar to other citizen advisory committees that we have established … to work on informing and educating the public on energy sustainability issues,” MacLeod added.

Councilor David Craig said the program wouldn’t be selecting one provider, but setting up a venue for vendors to compete by selecting several to participate in energy fairs. 

Humphrey said she did not believe it makes sense to form a committee without giving it some sort of direction or a specific task. 

“The original proposal … It has a broad view and a specific project,” Shannon added. “… To take away that one specific project … leaves the advisory committee with the broader mandate, but it doesn’t give them the … really clear direction … that I think we ought to be giving them.”

Humphrey also noted that she didn’t see why the committee couldn’t pursue a solarize program for those interested in town while, at the same time, taking a more comprehensive approach to renewable energy and sustainability by exploring various other cost- and energy-saving options. 

“I don’t see why we can’t do both,” she said. “That was how we ended up with this joint proposal in the first place and I’m disappointed to hear that solarize is being taken out of it.”

MMA nomination

After Plourde and Humphrey said they were interested in serving on the MMA’s Legislative Policy Committee, which enlists two municipal officials from each of the state’s 35 Senate Districts, Craig nominated Humphrey.

According to the MMA’s website, the purpose of the LPC is to “define municipal interests and to maximize those interests through effective participation in the legislative process.”

Waeldner said the need for action on the nomination at Thursday’s meeting was because the MMA will vote on each town’s nominations on June 14, which is before the council’s next voting meeting.

However, Humphrey’s nomination was defeated by a 4-3 vote. Thompson then moved not to nominate anyone from the council.

“For the last year … we have been dysfunctional,” she said. “We do not collaborate, except for very rare occasions. We do not work well as a Yarmouth Town Council … I do not believe that we have our own house in order and until we get our own house in order, I cannot support sending someone.”

Thompson added that the council has never nominated anyone for the position before, so she did not see the need at this time.

Humphrey said she understood where Thompson was coming from, calling it a “challenging year on the council,” but said “disagreement does not equal dysfunction.”

She added that not nominating someone from Yarmouth would be a “missed opportunity.”

“I think there are some issues that all of the people of this town would like to see us taking more leadership on on a state level … (such as) state education funding, revenue sharing and property taxes,” she added. “We just came out of a budget cycle where I feel many of us agreed that we need to take some kind of a stance on a state level … This is an opportunity for someone representing Yarmouth to be involved in an organization that’s advocating on a state level regarding state policies that affect municipalities like Yarmouth.”

Although his first choice was Humphrey, Shannon said he would also nominate Plourde.

“I think (Plourde) could do a fine job. I think he, perhaps best among us, can sensibly advocate on behalf of the town,” Shannon said. “I think we should send someone.”

Although Plourde said he “somewhat disagrees” with Thompson’s statement that the council is dysfunctional, he supported her motion in order to “avoid any more divisiveness.”

Waeldner and MacLeod also voted not to nominate anyone from the panel. 

Jocelyn Van Saun can be reached at 781-3661, ext. 183 or jvansaun@theforecaster.net. Follow her on Twitter @JocelynVanSaun.