YARMOUTH — The town is once again considering a solarize project in town.

On March 1, Councilor April Humphrey proposed a revised solarize concept, Solarize 2.0, which would select multiple installers to participate in the program, as opposed to just one. 

Town Manager Nat Tupper also updated the council on proposed citizen advisory committees, whose charge will be to assist the town and MDOT in construction plans of three local bridges. 

In January, the council rejected a Solarize Yarmouth program that 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.

One argument made by councilors opposed to endorsing a program at the time was that they did not want to create a monopoly by selecting one solar vendor and excluding all others. 

Humphrey’s revised proposal would charge a working group of volunteers led by Humphrey, rather than town staff, with selecting multiple installers to participate in the program. In order to be selected, installers would be required to meet minimum qualifications established in a request for quotes. 

The most important aspect of solarize, Humphrey said, is the deadline, which gives interested residents an initiative to do the research and make a timely decision, and the negotiated community discount, which encourages “word of mouth marketing because people get a higher discount the more that others participate.”

“The present solar proposal … preserves these program features while keeping the market open to multiple installers to ensure consumer choice,” Humphrey said in her proposal. 

Basic features and program requirements would ask installers to participate in a series of energy fairs during a set period of time. The proposal would also ask prospective vendors to provide an additional discount to fair attendees and provide pricing information in a specific, standardized format. Requirements will be ironed out as the council further considers endorsing the program.

According to Humphrey, the proposal was modeled after the Greater Portland Council of Government’s “Heat Pump Challenge.” All five companies that met the minimum qualifications for the RFQ participated in the Portland event.

“They felt this was enough to ensure choice and competition and not too much to make coordinating the program unwieldy,” Humphrey said. “There are currently 19 solar companies within a 50-mile radius of Yarmouth that are listed as qualified Efficiency Maine vendors.”

Should the council go forward with the program, Humphrey said the next steps would be establishing a task force to facilitate the program and also look at other sustainability options in town.

The group would establish a minimum criteria for vendors to participate, develop  a price comparison guide, provide consumers with additional resource material; organize a minimum of two solar fairs in Yarmouth; provide a discount plan that all who participate in the fair must offer; and provide a voluntary matching service for those who want to partner with other customers in selecting a common vendor to maximize the discount.

The council will vote on whether to endorse the committee and their charge on Thursday, March 14. 

Bridging the gap

The town is discussing plans with the Maine Department of Transportation to improve three bridges in town. 

MDOT has invited the town to appoint town staff, councilors and local residents to serve on an advisory task force to work with them on bridge designs, schedules, and other issues, such as pedestrian and cyclist accessibility. 

On March 15, the council will vote on appointments to three separate committees – one to advise plans for the Cousins River bridge, one for the Bayview Street bridge, and one for the Route 1 bridge near Exit 15. 

So far, three residents have volunteered to serve on the Cousins River bridge advisory committee. The hope is to have three citizens from Freeport appointed as well.

The Bayview Street bridge and Route 1 bridge advisory committees have both attracted two volunteers, but the council hopes to have at three to five on each. Interested residents can contact Town Clerk Jenn Doten

 “I hope more will volunteer,” Tupper said, noting that if not enough come forward, the council could consider collapsing the Bayview Street bridge and Route 1 bridge advisory committees into one. 

Jocelyn Van Saun can be reached at 781-3661, ext. 183 or [email protected]. Follow her on Twitter @JocelynVanSaun.

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