Yarmouth rejects solar-energy initiative, enacts retail marijuana ban

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YARMOUTH — The Town Council on Jan. 18 narrowly decided not to endorse a program that would encourage solar energy installations.

An indefinite ban on retail marijuana establishments and social clubs, however, was easily approved.

“Solarize Yarmouth” was proposed last August by Councilor April Humphrey and would have provided a joint purchasing option for solar panels from a selected provider for residents and businesses, which would help reduce the cost of installation.

Similar programs have been implemented in Freeport, Bath, and Brunswick. 

The town would function as an organizing agency and intermediary between the public and selected solar installers, but would have little to no liability and no financial obligations.

The vote against the proposal was 4-3, with Councilors Tim Shannon, David Craig and Humphrey in favor, and Chairwoman Pat Thompson and Councilors Jim MacLeod, Richard Plourde and Robert Waeldner opposed.

MacLeod said he did not want to endorse the program because after talking with solar industry expects, he felt there were other, better programs for alternative energy and ways to inform the public – including alerting residents to a home energy fair that is taking place at Falmouth Elementary School on Saturday, Jan. 27., where several vendors will be present. 

“Purchasing alternative energy, including solar, is a consumer decision,” MacLeod said. “(The energy fair) will bring in all vendors and let consumers hear all the necessary information, rather than just price.”

Thompson said she was not “philosophically in favor of creating a monopoly” where the town selects a vendor and “excludes all other vendors.” 

“The town would be promoting the monopoly,” she continued. “I don’t think that’s the role of the government.”

After the vote, Humphrey said she was very disappointed the council voted against the program, “in spite of strong public support,” and felt the vote was based on “the conservative political, limited-government ideology.” 

“Solarize has been very popular and successful in several nearby communities,” Craig said. “Yarmouth passed up the opportunity to show leadership in making renewable energy affordable for our residents.”

Retail marijuana

The marijuana ban, effective immediately, prohibits retail marijuana establishments and social clubs indefinitely, or until a council decides to amend or repeal the ordinance. 

Town Manager Nat Tupper said the ban would not affect medical marijuana facilities or possession of marijuana in small, legal doses. 

Prior to the vote, the town had a six-month moratorium on retail marijuana and social clubs that was set to expire next month. State law would have allowed the ban to be temporarily extended for one more, six-month period. 

At a meeting in December, Michael Brooks, of Benjamin’s Way, spoke against the ban, saying as the owner of 7 Umbrellas, which develops technology for the cannabis industry, the council would be banning his customers from operating in town. He asked the council to extend the moratorium or include a sunset provision, rather than enact a permanent ban. 

The council considered adding a two-year sunset provision to the ban, which would require the council to revisit the ordinance on Sept. 21, 2020, unless repealed, amended, or extended at an earlier date. However, the vote to amend failed by a 4-2 vote. MacLeod abstained. 

MacLeod was asked by Brooks to recuse himself from the discussion and a vote on the ban in December after Brooks made the allegation that one of his investors is a client of Portland Trust Company. Brooks claimed as president of the company and a financial attorney, MacLeod had a conflict of interest.

MacLeod said this caught him off guard, but after Brooks threatened to bring suit if he voted on the ban, he contacted the Maine State Bar Association for legal counsel and was unable to determine whether it was a conflict or not.

“I wasn’t sure if the suit would be against me or the town … (so) I decided to air on the side of caution,” MacLeod said. “It was a very, very unusual situation.” 

Still, without MacLeod, the council voted 5-1 to enact the ban.

Thompson said she held Police Chief Michael Morrill’s stance on the issue in high regard when considering how she’d vote. 

“The community is not prepared to tackle the issues that will develop related to the regulation and control of retail marijuana establishments and social clubs,” Morrill said on Jan. 18. “… My No. 1 concern is the enforcement of laws, which currently, there are no procedures in place for.” 

Craig opposed the ban. 

“Maine voters approved the legal use of recreational marijuana (and) their vote must be recognized and respected,” Craig said Jan. 22. “I would have supported a retail ban with a sunset provision to allow time for the regulatory and law enforcement issues to be settled, but not a permanent ban.”

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