The Energy Steering Committee was highlighted by the York Weekly as one of the town’s “Movers and Shakers” of 2015. From the article by Deborah McDermott:
YORK – During the recent climate talks in Paris, a group of state and provincial government leaders, mayors and municipal officials from throughout the world held a Climate Summit for Local Leaders. They argued that climate progress can be measured at the local level, where innovative programs often drive changes later adopted by federal governments.
This “think globally, act locally” attitude has infused the work of the York Energy Steering Committee in 2015, bringing the group to the forefront of several efforts aimed at reducing the town’s carbon footprint. And more is expected in 2016.
“People more broadly sense global warming is a problem of today, not tomorrow,” said chair Rozanna Patane. “We see it in the weather, we see it in our oceans. What the committee tries to talk about is putting the impact first, and the (monetary) savings, second. The bonus is while we’re saving the planet we can also save money.
“But that’s not why we’re doing this. It’s important for us here in York to do our part. This is a very big problem, but don’t say it’s so big that we can’t do our part,” she said.
Arguably the signature effort by the committee during the past year has been the solar panel installation on the roof of the York Beach Fire Department. In September, 2014, the committee secured a $98,000 grant to purchase and install the panels, which supply 28 kilowatt hours of electricity. As the New Year began, Fire Chief Dave Bridges said he watched the electric meters “whirling away. Can you imagine what it’s going to be like on a bright sunny day in July?”
As it turned out, the savings last summer turned out to be significant. The Central Maine Power bill last August showed a credit of $1.38. A year prior, Bridges said, he would have paid $325 to $350 for the same period. The committee also paid for heat pumps in the second floor to take the load off the oil boiler and generate heating and air conditioning there. Funds were also used to insulate the building and add light-emitting diode (LED) lighting.
Bridges was proud to show off the building at a public open house last September, saying, “I hope this is a model for another project in the future. Our building will be 100 years old in 2017. Can you imagine what you could do with a new building.”
Patane joined the committee after funding for energy projects was approved by a “very fragile vote” in 2014, funding that was not supported by the Budget Committee. “I said, ‘You guys are hiding under rocks and you need to let people know what you’re doing.’”
This year, the committee embarked on a project, still to be approved by voters, to switch all of the town’s 830 streetlights to LED lighting. Consulting firm Celtic Energy, Inc. was hired to plan the project and hire companies to design and install the system. Chris Lotspeich of Celtic Energy said the town could save as much as $150 per light per year by making the conversion from conventional bulbs. He estimated it would take the town about six years to pay back the upfront costs to buy, install and maintain the new bulbs.
Town Manager Steve Burns calls the project “a no-brainer. It’s a good idea because it saves energy, although I don’t see it saving money. But it’s a better quality of light, and projects like this make the country more efficient, and places less demand on oil in the Middle East. Energy conservation is the right approach.”
As year ends, the committee is working on an energy chapter to the town’s Comprehensive Plan, and is investigating the costs to set up private solar farms in town before a critical tax credit expires in 2016.
Burns said while energy is, overall, a small part of the town’s budget, “there’s plenty of stuff that can be done. I want to make sure we’re not going to do anything that makes irrational changes, but I have asked my department heads to look at this and ask themselves, “Is this the most energy efficient option? If not, why not? It’s a good question to ask.”